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Bid to delay airport project doesn't fly

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Warren County Airport

In this file shot, a flight takes off from the Warren County Airport in Queensbury on Monday, July 8, 2013. (Derek Pruitt - dpruitt@poststar.com)

QUEENSBURY -- Warren County supervisors on Tuesday rejected a request to hold off on spending more than $1 million to buy land and easements around Warren County Airport.

The Board of Supervisors’ Facility Committee voted unanimously to continue with the project instead of shortening the airport’s auxiliary runway or suing to enforce decades-old easements

Shortening the runway would have eliminated the need for the land and easements.

The decision came after a contentious, hourlong discussion that pitted a group of local pilots and project supporters against a group of supervisors and residents who have asked that alternatives to the $1.04 million property and easement purchases be given a closer look. All but 5 percent of the project would be paid by state or federal grants.

The alternatives have been proposed by Queensbury at-Large supervisors Mark Westcott and Doug Beaty and Queensbury resident Travis Whitehead, who are members of a group that has questioned the need to buy property and easements when less expensive options are available.

“This really is about options. I don’t think we’ve vetted all the options correctly,” Whitehead said.

One alternative is shortening the 4,000-foot-long runway to do away with the need for easements and more land for the “runway protection zone.”

The group questioned why the county has agreed to pay Ronald Chartrand $855,000 for a 53-acre parcel assessed at $102,000 when Chartrand recently bought 20 acres of nearby land from the county for $40,000. Chester Supervisor Fred Monroe called that a “huge discrepancy.” Chartrand had opted not to sell the county an avigation easement but to require a full purchase.

But the land Chartrand bought was landlocked by his property and not as developable as the land he has agreed to sell the county. County Attorney Martin Auffredou said the FAA approved the appraisal.

Beaty pointed out some of the land is in Kingsbury, which would put the county in the position of losing property from its tax rolls and having to pay Washington County taxes on the land instead.

Auffredou said the county could subdivide the land and sell portions of it, outside the runway protection zone, for development.

Some questioned why the county had not pursued eminent domain proceedings to acquire Chartrand’s property, but county officials said that was viewed as a last resort.

Shortening the auxiliary runway, which is generally used only when strong winds come out of the northwest, did not sit well with pilots in attendance.

Pilot Harrison Freer said the FAA could place restrictions on pilots, while pilot Dave Alexander said the bad conditions under which that runway is usually used require the full length of pavement.

“I don’t see shortening Runway 30 as an option,” he said. “If you’ve got windy conditions, you want as much runway as you can have.”

Freer accused opponents of the project of using “inaccurate and misleading” information to make their case.

The county bought avigation easements over the property in the 1940s, which prompted discussion over whether litigation to enforce those easements was possible. But the map detailing those easements has long been lost.

“Absent those maps, the chances of success are greatly diminished,” Auffredou said.

Monroe asked that the vote to continue on the path to property and easement purchases be tabled because Westcott was not present for the meeting. But his request was not seconded.

Monroe and committee members Evelyn Wood, Thurman’s supervisor, and John Strough, Queensbury’s supervisor, voted to go ahead with the project.

Westcott said he had a previously scheduled business trip so he could not attend the meeting.

“We’re not trying to railroad this through. We just want the county to take a closer look at it,” he said.

Westcott and his supporters have planned a public meeting on the issue March 12 at Crandall Public Library, starting at 6 p.m.

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