Six Columbia County Supervisors were appointed last Fall to a new Airport Committee. Months of intense debate and research finally produced a compromise solution for the Ghent facility, slightly reducing the runway’s length while reducing costs to address potential hazards. The Columbia Paper editorialized last week that the so-called Porreca Plan presented “relevant facts, precise goals and a reasonable, affordable plan for making the airport safer.” Even Richmor president Mahlon Richards favors the plan.
But now, the Committee member with the worst attendance record is trying to re-wage the County Airport battle, well after it has reached the mopping-up stage.
New Lebanon Supervisor Michael Benson attended just two of the seven public meetings organized by chair Art Bassin. The following chart, assembled from Airport Committee minutes, tells the tale:
An eighth private meeting was also held with the FAA in November, with all Committee members in attendance—except, reportedly, Benson.
DPW chief David Robinson and County economic development czar Ken Flood are included in this chart, though they were not official committee members. Yet their attendance still exceeded that of Benson, who has not uttered a word in public on the topic since a less-than-stellar performance on December 11th.
In his single previous appearance, Benson called for the Committee to enter a secret Executive Session. At an informational session held on the 12th of this month for the Committee to brief the full Board of Supervisors, Benson made and appearance, but declined to comment when asked to do so.
But this lack of attendance and public silence has not stopped the New Lebanon Super (and BCI construction boss) from trying at the last minute to derail the outcome behind the scenes. Nor has a potential conflict-of-interest caused Benson to recuse himself from the deliberations, or given him qualms about trying to shut down the Airport Committee prematurely.
In a January 29th email to the Committee, Benson boasted that his firm has “worked with C&S ... on multiple projects.” C&S is the County’s controversial consulting firm which has reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars of fees, as it has encouraged the constant expansion of the airport. Like Benson, C&S representative Chris Brubach has bent over backward to argue against the Porreca Plan in favor of more expensive options.
Most recently, an 11th-hour proposal from Meadowgreens owner Carmen Nero to the Airport Committee, aimed at throwing a monkey wrench into a planned vote on the Porreca Plan, curiously was addressed to Benson rather than the Committee’s chair, Bassin.
Nero says it was a simple mistake. But the error has only fueled existing speculation that Benson has had a role in instigating the ploy. (Bassin generously treated the proposals as something new to consider, though in fact the County has known for many years that Nero would prefer to sell the whole property.)
Meanwhile, in emails circulated to the Committee and other County officials, Benson has been on the warpath against the Porreca Plan, favoring instead Nero’s preferred option: for the County to buy the entire property, while allowing Nero to retain development rights. (Nice deal if you can get it.)
Benson’s lack of participation in the Committee’s detailed deliberations has not deterred him from charging others with ignorance, and using fear tactics to try to cow fellow Supervisors into submission.
In a new email this past Sunday to fellow Supervisors, Benson attempted to wade into the Committee’s long-running debate about avigation easements over neighboring properties, as if he had just discovered the issue. His comments take a bullying tone which seeks to intimidate fellow Supervisors and public with the specter of “embarrassment” if the Porreca Plan is adopted:
I truly hope that there is a presence (on the committee) or otherwise that realizes; in any possible scenario, there is a need for additional easements and/or land to the north of the airport. I believe that there is. Not dealing with this reality would be a significant mistake and will ultimately be very embarrassing for the County and those caught up in the denial of that very simple fact. Unless I am missing something (and please tell me if I am) this is a reality that there doesn’t currently seem to be a plan for?
Yes, Supervisor Benson “missed something.” He missed over 70% of the Airport Committee’s meetings. Benson had the time and energy to raise spurious complaints about the Committee’s email cc: lists, but not so much for showing up.
Had he been present more often, he would know that many issues about the number, location and cost of known and potential aviation easements were debated at length, over several meetings.
Likewise, the way in which such easements could shift, depending on which plan gets chosen, was another frequent topic of discussion—at meetings Benson skipped.
For the record, Patti Matheney, Michael Schrom, Kevin Delahanty, and Ken Dow were primarily responsible for bringing easementissues to the fore -- in spite of much obstruction by the County Attorney’s office in releasing the paperwork which fleshed the issue out. For example, Bassin’s notes for the 12/27 meeting, read as follows.
3. Dow/Schrom Conclusions - Mr. Dow and Mr. Schrom concluded that they supported a "modified Porreca Plan", which would reduce the runway to 5000 feet, but expand on the southern end and shorten on the northern end to achieve both the 5000 feet or runway and the needed 1000 foot safety zones on both ends. While avigation easements would still be necessary, Dow and Schrom believe they would be less intrusive and disruptive from a "modified Porreca" 5000 foot runway than from the proposed 1000 foot expansion of the northern safety zone from the current 5350 foot runway, using adjacent Meadowgreens land. […]
In short, not only was the issue “raised” by Benson an old one, it is one whose exploration revealed that the Porreca Plan would be significantly less complicated and cheaper than Benson’s apparent goal of a spendthrift purchase from CN Productions.
Benson’s Sunday email also discloses that he will be absent yet again from this afternoon’s 3 pm meeting of the Airport Committee at 401 State Street.