The debate over why Warren County’s airport runway extension project was allowed to go forward for so long continued this week as county officials tabulated the costs up to the point work stopped last week.
In all, $635,257 has been spent on planning work for the project, all of it going to the engineering firm hired to steer the extension toward final state and federal approval — C & S Engineers Inc. of Syracuse.
County taxpayers have been responsible for 5 percent of that tab, amounting to $31,762, with the Federal Aviation Administration and state picking up the remainder, according to Warren County Administrator Ryan Moore.
County supervisors learned late last week that a new FAA analysis of the project led the agency to decide the 1,000-foot extension to the south end of the main airport runway was not needed, and the FAA would no longer fund it. That resulted in work, still in the planning stages, being halted.
After studying air traffic at the airport, the FAA applied a lower “load factor” for weights of planes using airports such as Warren’s, which resulted in the agency determining that the runway length should be 4,600 to 5,100 feet. The 5,000 foot-long runway was deemed sufficient.
“The bottom line is the FAA changed the standard,” Moore said.
Opponents of the project contend the FAA should have analyzed the data they were providing the agency years earlier. Travis Whitehead, an engineer from Queensbury who has been a leading critic of the project, pointed out that analyses that showed the project was not needed were compiled after opposition to the project arose years ago.
“The FAA either never read them, or they just put their head down and said, ‘Let’s see how this plays out,’” he said.
County Public Works Superintendent Kevin Hajos said county Airport Manager Don DeGraw’s proposal to the FAA earlier this year of a less expensive runway extension prompted the agency to take another look at the project.
It was only after the project’s opponents got the ear of U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-Schuylerville, that the FAA was convinced to re-review the data and concluded the extension was not worth pursuing.
Stefanik’s office released a statement on her involvement, which reads, “The congresswoman followed protocol of ensuring all stakeholders, including members of the public and local elected officials, were able to share their views with the FAA.”
The halt to the project came just before the bulk of the planning was scheduled to begin, in a phase that would have cost an additional $1.2 million for engineering work. Only $67,810 of that work had taken place as of last week’s FAA announcement that the extension was not needed.
“It was all a planning exercise until you put a stake in the ground,” Moore said.
The county also paid $297,000 to a landowner whose property sits off the south end of the main runway, where the extension would have run. But Hajos said that purchase was not dependent upon the extension. The money paid for land and air rights was intended to remove obstructions from the “glide path” of the runway as it currently exists, he said.
In all, the extension was expected to cost up to $12 million, a price that has grown from $8 million in the 17 years since it was first proposed as part of the 2002 airport master plan.
C & S has done engineering work for airport projects other than the runway extension, such as removal of obstructions in other areas around the airport.