Vineyard Officials Ask Wider Public Role in Deliberations on Airport Master Plan
By JONATHAN BURKE
Island officials, from the town of Aquinnah to the Dukes County Commission to the Martha's Vineyard Commission, have requested a broader public process in connection with the airport commission's consideration of its 20-year master plan.
"While the airport master plan encompasses many important proposals for airport improvement and expansion, many of those proposals can have a direct impact on the Vineyard community in general, and the airport's neighbors specifically - who will be directly impacted by many of the proposals in the plan. We ask that these community neighbors be afforded sufficient time to review the document and attend several public comment sessions," wrote Leslie Leland, chairman of the county commissioners, in a Dec. 2 letter.
"I write to request that you delay any decision on the airport master plan until sometime in January so there will be sufficient time for the parties involved to review it," wrote Alice Butler, chairman of the Martha's Vineyard Transit Authority board, in a Dec. 3 letter.
On Wednesday evening, the airport commission held a public information session attended by approximately 50 people. Stations where people could ask questions were set up on environmental issues, aircraft noise, vehicle ground traffic, terminal needs, plans for airport complex and airfield development and land side development. Towards the end of the evening, the airport commission scheduled a vote on the master plan for Dec. 18.
But Island officials, many of them with specific interests, have requested more than a single informational session followed by a vote.
Michael McCormack, Dukes County sheriff, is upset that the master plan does not endorse his request to build a new jail on airport land. He would like some time to evaluate the master plan's reasoning.
"I would like to request 60 days for the opportunity to meet with my consultants and explore all of the options that may be available, including, but not limited to, those that are outlined in Chapter 5 Land Side Issues of the master plan," Sheriff McCormack wrote in a Dec. 4 letter.
Kathryn Roessel, the Island's Steamship Authority representative, said she would like to know more about the proposed SSA parking lot at the airport.
"Reportedly, this plan intends to create a major transportation hub on the site of the Vineyard's present airport facility including parking facilities for Steamship Authority patrons," wrote Ms. Roessel.
In a telephone conversation this week, Ms. Roessel said that an SSA parking lot may or may not be a good idea. Her concern, she said, was that SSA officials be given an opportunity to weigh in on a proposal which will have a direct impact on SSA operations.
"My thought is, before the airport commission adopts a plan that's going to have major impact on regional transportation, it would be a good thing if they would sit down with the Steamship Authority and see how these two different methods of getting to and from Martha's Vineyard can be most effectively interfaced," said Ms. Roessel.
Ms. Roessel said it was her belief that very general discussions were held regarding SSA parking at the airport a few years ago, but that the SSA had not been notified of any provisions for parking in the master plan.
William Weibrecht, airport manager, said yesterday that he did not anticipate any public hearings. He said any criticisms of the airport commission's process fail to take into account the airport advisory committee established two years ago. The committee advertised its role in receiving public ideas and comment, said Mr. Weibrecht.
And according to a handout from Wednesday evening's information session, there will be additional opportunities for public comment and local review following the Dec. 18 vote.
"The environmental impacts of the airport development program for the next seven to 10 years will be submitted early in 2003 to federal and state environmental review agencies for public review and comment. Additionally, many of the non-aviation land development proposals must be submitted to local boards and authorities for review and approval," reads the handout.
It was unclear this week whether these assurances will suffice. The MVC, no stranger to public scrutiny, has recommended at least one more public meeting. "Allowing only a few weeks to assimilate this complex proposal and a single public meeting to react seems to underestimate the far-reaching effects and importance of the airport," wrote Mark London.
Other organizations that have noted their disapproval of the airport commission's public process are the West Tisbury planning board and the boards of selectmen of the towns of Aquinnah, Oak Bluffs and Tisbury.
The master plan, a document of more than 100 pages, would provide for longer and wider runways, more hangars, a bigger main terminal and room for retail shopping. The plan outlines 22 separate projects in the next seven years at a total cost estimated to exceed $27 million.