The recent uncovering of emails pertaining to the runway extension plans for Warren County airport has upset some county supervisors and residents, that Federal Aviation Administration and state Department of Environmental Conservation questions about the project were withheld from them for years.
The emails were received by lawyer John Caffry, who specializes in environmental issues and represents a number of groups that are concerned about environmental impact of the proposed 1,000-foot extension.
He filed a Freedom of Information Law request with the DEC for correspondence between the county, DEC and FAA regarding the extension and received hundreds of pages of documents.
Opponents of the project have seized on FAA recommendations in a 2013 response to a draft environmental impact statement that was prepared for the project. One 56-page document from the FAA in March 2013 includes numerous questions and suggestions for the impact statement.
At one point, the FAA wrote that the county’s “purpose and needs statement (for the extension) is weak,” which led some to conclude the agency was questioning the need for the project. County leaders believe the statement referred to the documentation included in the impact statement.
The issue was raised by former Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Mark Westcott, who addressed the county Board of Supervisors Facilities Committee on Tuesday and questioned why supervisors were not made aware of the correspondence.
Westcott, who opposes the $8 million runway project, sat on the Facilities Committee while on the board for two terms between 2012 and 2015. The documents seem to “substantiate” concerns he has about the runway extension, he said.
“I was a member of this committee and I have never seen these documents,” Westcott said.
Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty, who opposes the extension, said the revelations show a “lack of transparency” with the project that “appalls me.” He had asked to be copied on all correspondence related to the project, but has not been, he said.
He said he believes the opinions of some supervisors who supported the project would have been changed had they seen the documents in 2013. Queensbury resident Travis Whitehead, a vocal critic of the project, pointed out that the DEC questioned how the project would affect a rare marl fen, which had not been raised publicly before.
Warren County Public Works Superintendent Jeff Tennyson said the FAA statement was not directed at the project’s validity.
“I have never seen anything where they indicated this project doesn’t have merits,” Tennyson said.
He said the state and federal agencies overseeing the project have raised many questions throughout the planning process, which is normal. He called it “critical in a good way.”
The county plans to extend the main runway at the airport in Queensbury 1,000 feet, toward Quaker Road. The project is still awaiting final state and federal approval, and opponents are hopeful that environmental concerns and questions about the need for the extension will result in it being turned down.
Caffry sent a letter to the county Board of Supervisors on Monday questioning the thoroughness of the DEIS, also writing “There is not reasonable proof of any public need for this action (runway extension).”
He said he has concerns that the Board of Supervisors is not following what has taken place with the county consultants and airport management as they try to steer the project through the permitting process.