|IN THE NEWS - Airport Safety Project is Cleared for Takeoff|
October 15, 2009
State Approves City's Approval
Pittsfield - The state Department of Environmental Protection has granted final approval to the City’s runway safety improvement project at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport. This critical state approval is the culmination of 6 years of cooperation and consensus building on the part of the Ruberto administration to move this important economic development project forward.
In her written approval, DEP Commissioner Laurie Burt stated: “Following a thorough review of the project, I find that the project constitutes an overriding public interest because it will improve the existing Runway Safety Areas to reduce the risk of damage to airplanes, personal injury and loss of life in the event of an aircraft undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway. I also find that the project design, as conditioned, represents the most reasonable alternative that achieves the project objective while minimizing and mitigating wetland resource impacts.” Commissioner Burt cited the city’s proposed measures to protect the environment through wetland replication, riverfront area restoration, flood storage, storm water management measures and erosion and sedimentation controls to be implemented during construction.
Commissioner Burt’s written approval also acknowledged the important role the safety improvement project will play in bringing the Pittsfield Municipal Airport into compliance with current standards. “The overriding public interest in this project is one of improving runway safety at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport in order to comply with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards pertaining to airport design,” Commissioner Burt wrote in her approval. “The Applicant, with support from the FAA, has demonstrated that runway safety area construction is a very high priority to ensure safety at the Pittsfield Municipal Airport. The objective of the FAA program is to bring runway safety areas at airports like the Pittsfield Municipal Airport into compliance with applicable FAA design standards to the extent practicable.”
The DEP approval caps a multi-year process of engineering analysis, environmental evaluations, and extensive public input. Commissioner Burt cited the extensive array of possible alternatives that were evaluated and stated: “I find that no other reasonable alternative exists that would allow the project to proceed” in compliance with appropriate regulations.
Commissioner Burt also acknowledged the substantial amount of public involvement in the review process. “The Department acknowledges receipt of thoughtful and substantive comments from the public. The Department used information in the comments to help evaluate the conditions in the vicinity of the airport and to better understand the concerns of the community. We are grateful for the public input received on this project.”
Pittsfield Mayor James Ruberto expressed relief and gratitude that the airport safety improvement project can now move to completion. “Pittsfield needs every competitive advantage to retain local businesses, and now this project which is so vital for economic development is cleared for takeoff,” the Mayor said. “I thank every one of the people who worked so hard on this project for so many years. At long last, we have an approved project which the state agrees balances the need for safety with sensitivity to the environment.”
“We approached this project with a determination to get through to the end result, and also with a willingness to compromise and make sure that the entire community had a voice and a role in the process,” Ruberto said. “I join Commissioner Burt in thanking all of the people who gave their input. You have made this a better project.”
State Representative Christopher Speranzo (D-Pittsfield) praised the mayor’s determination in seeing the project through. “From the moment Jim Ruberto took office, he has doggedly pursued the critical runway safety improvements necessary to make the Pittsfield airport an engine of economic activity in the Berkshires. Mayor Ruberto pursued consensus when others saw stalemate and he should be commended for that,” Speranzo said. “He showed the kind of leadership needed to get big, difficult projects through a rigorous state and federal approval process.”
State Senator Benjamin B. Downing (D- Pittsfield) said the project represents an important breakthrough for the region. “The facility may be known as the Pittsfield Municipal Airport, but it truly services all of Berkshire County and beyond,” said Downing. “Moving this project forward to completion will bring economic benefits to Pittsfield and its neighboring communities.” In addition to the $10 million in federal assistance that the Pittsfield Airport has received from Congressman Olver, the entire Berkshire legislative delegation worked together to secure the necessary funding for this now approved project to proceed in the state Transportation Bond bill passed in 2008.
Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Mike Supranowicz said, “Our location in the Berkshires is enviable because of the natural beauty we all enjoy, but the Berkshire hills can also complicate transportation,” Supranowicz said. “With this breakthrough at the airport, we can look forward to a safer facility that can support an infrastructure for both businesses and private aircrafts. Combined with all of the road improvements completed and in design, as well as other economic initiatives happening throughout the City, the airport variance is a huge plus for the local economy.”
Ward 5 City Councilor Jonathon Lothrop said, “The variance approval is a major step forward for this complicated and challenging permitting process. The project, as permitted, is the culmination of many years of persistent efforts to realize the vision of the Airport compromise. The Variance ensures that both airport users and the neighbors will continue to co-exist in our shared space. The Variance also shows that the compromise reduced environmental impacts too far less than what was originally proposed ten years ago. I continue to support the hard work which resulted in the Airport compromise, announced five years ago this month.”
Pittsfield Airport Manager Mark Germanowski said, “As sponsors of the Airport Runway Safety project the Mayor and the Airport Commission have been incredibly responsible to national, state and local environmental agencies for permit compliances. This responsiveness has resulted in approval of DEP variance permit, which is one of the most significant and environmentally sensitive permits to obtain. The FAA and the MAC (Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission) were supportive of this sponsor’s sensitivity to the environment allowing designs that avoided environmental resource areas while providing for significant safety improvements to be implemented.”