State official lays out Middlebury airport project timetable

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Agency of Transportation officials on Sept. 16 mapped out a series of public meetings that they hope will culminate in approval of final plans for a $3.5 million runway renovation/expansion project at the Middlebury State Airport. The project is tentatively slated to begin during the spring of 2017.
The project — which has drawn substantial criticism from many airport neighbors — would first involve the acquisition of “avigation” easements from some airport neighbors in order to clear trees at the southern takeoff/approach of the runway. Plans then call for extending the 2,500-foot runway by 700 feet (to the north) for a total of 3,200 feet, and widening it from the current 50 to 60 feet. Also included in the project: Reconstruction and repaving of the runway and taxiing apron, which were last repaved more than two decades ago and can no longer be satisfactorily patched, according to VTrans officials.
Project critics and supporters filed in to one of the airport buildings this past Wednesday evening to learn more about the project, find out how to register noise complaints, hear about a VTrans website that will be devoted to the project, and get a sense of future opportunities to comment on the plans.
Opponents of the project are concerned, among other things, about the possibility that an extended runway could attract louder and larger aircraft.
Supporters — including local pilots and airport-based business owners who make their living in the aviation industry — contend the upgrades will improve flight safety and bring in more revenue opportunities.
Last week’s meeting was coordinated by VTrans officials and held for neighbors and other airport stakeholders. A previous airport gathering in May that was covered by the Addison Independent was coordinated by the Middlebury selectboard and featured tours of the facility.
Guy Rouelle, aviation program director for VTrans, outlined the following dates for new activity on the airport project:
•  Oct. 6, a public meeting at the Middlebury State Airport that will focus on project plans expected to be 25 percent complete. That meeting is tentatively scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
•  Dec. 1, another public meeting at the Middlebury Airport, this time for plans expected to be 60 percent complete.
•  Dec. 16 — the date by which preliminary design plans for the project are to go out to all local, state and federal permitting authorities.
•  Jan. 14, 2016, the date by which final project plans are expected to be ready for submission to all permitting authorities. This benchmark will include another public meeting at the airport, according to Rouelle.
•  March of 2016, when VTrans will advertise for bids for companies interested in doing the airport project. Those bids would be opened in April.
•  April 20, 2016, the date by which VTrans must submit its grant application to the Federal Aviation Administration for money to pay for the project. VTrans officials have said that securing that funding is critical for the Middlebury Airport project to proceed.
•  Winter of 2016, when trees to the north and south of the runway would be cleared.
•  May of 2017, when the runway work would begin. Rouelle anticipates the contractor would have a window of 150 days in which to complete the project.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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