For more than a decade, officials have privately mulled changes to the Columbia County airport. Over the past year, contentious public debate raged at over a dozen meetings about how to bring the Ghent facility into compliance with safety regulations. But just this week, a surprise suggestion from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) may have rendered all of these arguments and explorations moot.
According to sources familiar with a conference call this week between the FAA and the County Airport Committee, the Feds suggested a radically simple bureaucratic solution: Just reclassify the airport into a category requiring a much shorter Runway Safety Area (RSA).
Due to the airport handling less than 500 jet operations per year, it is apparently eligible to downgrade its classification to a level which needs only a 300-foot RSA, not 1,000 feet.
The longer 1,000-foot requirement has been the key factor driving endless controversy about compliance. For most of last year, and also in the decade previous, the County devoted substantial time and resources to assessing whether to acquire additional land via purchase or eminent domain from Meadowgreens, or else to shorten or shift the runway away from the golf course’s border.
The stunningly quick-and-dirty solution reportedly proposed by the FAA would mean the County could meet the RSA requirements using the existing 200 feet of space between the north end of the runway, plus reducing the overall length by another 100 feet to 5,250. By contrast, the compromise “Porreca Plan” approved by the County recently would have shortened the runway to about 5,000 feet, and involved construction costs on the southern end.
The FAA’s idea might still require the County to acquire some avigation easements from Meadowgreens to ensure that obstructions do not permeate aircrafts’ approach zone. Or perhaps a hybrid of the Porreca Plan and the FAA solution (reclassification plus the 5,000-foot declared distance) would further reduce or eliminate that remaining obstacle.
This seemingly positive outcome does raise one sticky question: Why wasn’t this option identified sooner by either the County’s highly-paid consultants at C&S, or its various Development and Public Works staff, or its Committee members, or the FAA itself?
This observer can’t help but think it might have something to do with pride—officials not wanting to admit what citizens had constantly pointed out, that there is very little jet activity at the Richmor-managed facility.