DRB hears bridge, airport, and road applications

by Jack DemingThe Hermitage Club is looking to lengthen the runway at the Deerfield Valley Airport and build more hangers.

The Hermitage Club is looking to lengthen the runway at the Deerfield Valley Airport and build more hangers.

WILMINGTON- The Development Review Board heard applications for two extensions Monday night, one for a previously granted permit, the other for a runway at Hermitage-owned Deerfield Valley Airport.

The town of Wilmington applied for a permit extension, seeking more time to raise the Reardon’s Crossing walking bridge, as required by a March 17, 2014 DRB decision. The bridge, which spans the Deerfield River off of West Main Street, was not technically in the town’s possession until June 4, 2013, and the town did not apply for a conditional use permit for recreation until January 2014. While private parties own the land on either side of the bridge, agreements between the town and both property owners provide permanent easements for pedestrian and nonmotorized use, with access across both properties.

But the bridge was installed over a floodway, and was determined to be below base flood elevation. A hydrologic and hydraulic (H&H) analysis had also not been completed on the site as required by the town’s zoning ordinance, and by the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR). At the time of construction town officials said the project was given the green light by the wrong department of ANR, so the town went ahead without a permit.

In their March 17 ruling, the DRB put conditions on approval of the bridge depending on the findings of the town’s application to ANR and the H&H study. After ANR reported that the base flood elevation was higher than the bridge, one condition put on the permit by the DRB came into play, requiring the bridge be raised (later determined to be approximately five feet) within one year.

As the deadline swings into view, the town is asking for more time. Town economic development consultant Gretchen Havreluk served as the town’s agent at the meeting, asking for an eight-month extension on the permit. “The only thing that’s changing (on the permit application) is the deadline,” said Havreluk. “The town was obviously not able to get the bridge raised by that time (March 17). We’ve been in touch with a contractor and the contractor called at the end of November and said we have to pour concrete in order to do the project, and it wasn’t appropriate timing.”

Havreluk also explained that the town did not complete the H&H study because it was already evident the bridge was in the floodway, and would need to be raised. Havreluk also explained that if the bridge was not raised, it put properties insured by FEMA in the flood zone in jeopardy of losing coverage. The DRB has 45 days to decide on whether to grant an extension.

In other business, the DRB switched from bridges to airports to hear an application for expansion of the runway at Deerfield Valley Airport, as well as the construction of five hangers and the East Tract Road.

The applicant, the Hermitage Club, is looking to expand the runway from its current length of 2,650 feet to 4,450 feet, adding 1,800 feet of 75-foot-wide runway. This will accommodate Federal Aviation Administration requirements for a B-1 rating for the airport, which allows small jets to land.

Representatives from the Hermitage explained that the airport had already been granted an Act 250 permit for extending the runway in 1991, but the work was never completed by previous owner Bob North. According to engineer Bob Harrington, the extension is intended to bring the airport up to commercial potential, and to make it safe.

“A lot of factors go into this,” said Harrington. “The elevation is the highest of the 17 airports in Vermont at 1,950 feet, and wind turbulence is different. It takes a longer runway to safely support an aircraft by FAA standards. One big reason this will never be anything other than a B1-category airport is the width required for anything other than B1 planes is 500 feet. Also the requirement for an object-free zone (a clear area at each end of the runway) is 250 feet. The north end of the airport is now 250 feet and cannot be increased with (the location of) Partridge Run and Mount Snow Golf Course.”

DRB member Wendy Manners asked what classified the airport as a “regional” airport. “That has to do with service abilities,” said Harrington. “If it’s brought up to these (proposed) standards, it can be used more by the whole region and serve businesses up and down Route 100 and to Brattleboro. It would be used for business more than it’s used right now”

The Hermitage is also looking to clear an area of approximately 800 feet at the south end of the runway as an approach zone. If approved, clearing will take place on the site of four acres of wetlands, according to Harrington, and becoming a regional airport helps the applicant’s cause for being permitted to work on wetlands. “In building our case to give up the wetlands there, we have to justify that in every way we can.”

“So by becoming regional, that supplies the trump card for the wetlands?” asked DRB chair Peter Wallace.

“Yes,” replied Harrington, “At this point, the airport is limited in its usage due to safety standards. This ties in with the safety of the airport along with length, width, lighting, and the object-free zone. It’s more justification for having to eliminate the wetlands.”

Harrington also said the Hermitage has been through eight wetland reviews since August 2013, with the Hermitage trying to minimize as much impact as possible. “We’re submitting our final wetlands application to the Army Corps of Engineers and the state.”

“So the construction of all this is contingent on receipt of a wetlands permit?” asked DRB member Fred Houston.

“It could be, yes,” replied Harrington.

The Hermitage is also asking for approval of the construction of five 60-foot-by-80-foot steel-frame hangers to accommodate the 12 flights per day the Hermitage is foreseeing.

Also discussed was an application for reconstruction of the East Tract Road, redesigned to weave around the south end of the runway, due to the planned extension. The Hermitage is planning to widen the road to 24 feet, to create more access to the airport for emergency services and to lots in the East Tract.

Hermitage Vice President Bob Rubin said that the plan was to create a gravel road, which would eventually be paved. Houston said that he was not comfortable with the idea of no time limit being placed on the paving, and asked if there was instead a time period which the board could consider. After Hermitage attorney Bob Fisher explained it could take up to five years to pave, Rubin decided that the Hermitage would apply for a gravel road Monday night, and would return to the board when the club wants to pave the road.

Abutter to the project Joe Busko said that he had just become aware of the expansion plan and its proximity was concerning to him. “I own property 300 feet off the runway, which is not acceptable to me. You say you want to restore it back to the 1980s when it flourished, then why extend it? You’re expanding for another reason. You’re making it bigger for bigger planes.”

Fisher explained that the plane size will stay the same, as will the original, planned length of the airport. “The prior owner had permits and an Act 250 for extension,” said Fisher. “He built out the runway then ran out of money. The goal is not to bring in bigger planes, it’s to make it safer. Three people were killed landing at the airport.”

“It never met FAA standards,” added Harrington. “Though people were landing it wasn’t safe.”

Laurie Newton, representing Mount Snow at the meeting, asked that the board make a condition of approval be the open use of the airport. “My understanding in previous testimony is that this is open not just to Hermitage guests, but guests everywhere,” said Newton. “I would request the board consider this as a permit requirement. Let’s say they sell the airport in 10 years, the new owner must keep it open (to the public). I would hate to see someone buy it and someone from another lodging facility not able to use it.”

The DRB requested an official copy of a report on decibel limits, which are set at approval for 60 decibels or less at the airport. The board continued the meeting until Monday, March 2, at 6 pm.
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