Draft Report Eyes Airport

An Early Look at Project Plans Sees No Environmental Hurdle to Runway Improvements, New Terminal, Jail

By ALEXIS TONTI

The Martha's Vineyard Airport commissioners this week previewed a document that will be critical to the approval, by both state and federal officials, of long-range plans for development at the airport and on its surrounding property.

Still in rough form, the draft environmental impact report (DEIR) and environmental assessment suggests there will be few roadblocks on that score to completing the airport's capital improvement program by 2010 and constructing a new county jail on airport property.

The commissioners received the report at their regular meeting Wednesday night. The lengthy document arrived in a binder the size of a telephone book and will expand with the addition of several more studies, including an assessment of wastewater and water supply issues.

The DEIR is being completed by Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, the consultant group that conducted the airport master plan.

The report uses detailed studies of issues such as noise, traffic and air quality to assess the cumulative effect of all proposed development at the airport through 2010. The 14-item project list includes runway improvements, a new main passenger terminal and the construction of a fire fighting training facility and county jail.

The project list is a consolidated version of the capital improvement program outlined in the airport master plan, adopted by the airport commissioners in December 2002.

Airport manager Bill Weibrecht said yesterday the commissioners will review the DEIR over the next few months, before approving it for submission to the state.

They plan to file the report with the secretary of the executive office of environmental affairs April 15.

The state must review the report before it can sign off on the capital improvement project or consider releasing airport land for nonaviation purposes. During its review, the state also can flag any part of the report for further study.

One land use alternative that has long been a source of contention is a new county jail. The proposed site sits on roughly seven acres in the southwest quadrant of the airport property, near the Hot Tin Roof.

The DEIR notes specifically that it addresses issues triggered by the development of land for a jail, rather than issues related to the design of the jail itself.

It takes a look at the "big picture" impacts of the county jail - such as traffic and wastewater demand - but does not address issues of architectural style, building materials and design configuration on the property.

The report puts the onus on the airport commission and the county sheriff to address those issues as project planning moves forward. It also notes that the project cannot be pursued until Island residents have the opportunity to voice their opinions.

In conducting its impact studies, the DEIR assumes a "future build scenario," six years from now, in which the capital improvement program has been completed.

The report envisions that the business park is built out, having developed an additional 20,500 square feet of land for mixed commercial and industrial use. Along the existing airport access road will be another 12,000 square feet of mixed office and retail. The connector road will be in place, linking Airport Road to the business park and allowing for 10,000 square feet of development. And finally, Airline Road will be built in the business park, attracting a cargo consolidation center of roughly 15,000 square feet and hangar development.

The DEIR suggests the 14 projects will have a minor impact on traffic and the operation of nearby intersections. In the peak summer months it projects an additional 794 cars will be traveling in the area per day, and 85 per hour.

But the report also suggests measures to mitigate the increased flow, including the addition of separate right and left turn lanes on both Airport Road and Barnes Road, where they meet the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. It also notes that construction of a road connecting Airport Road to the business park - part of the project plan - will lessen congestion.

The noise study concluded that the airport property, beyond the area immediately surrounding the runways, falls within a 65 decibel daily noise level - the benchmark level compatible with residential land use, as defined by the FAA and the department of housing and urban development.

The rare species surveys found several sensitive sandplain and grassland species, including the barrens black moth, blue-eyed grass and purple needlegrass, all of which can be treated sensitively with appropriate measures.

Mr. Weibrecht said given the current time line of review and approval, he hopes to begin the first projects in early 2005. Topping the list are improvements to one of the airplane taxiways; construction of the southeast ramp (where aircraft park), and construction of Airline Road.