Group proposes new hangar for Middlebury airport
MIDDLEBURY — Some neighbors of the Middlebury State Airport are concerned about a local group’s proposal to include a “jet fuel delivery system” as part of a 120-foot-by-120-foot airplane hangar project at the state-owned facility.
Jamie Gaucher, Middlebury’s director of business development & innovation, confirmed on Sept. 22 that he received a call on Sept. 17 “from an individual interested in making an investment in the Middlebury airport.” He did not divulge the name of the party, which has yet to submit a formal application for the plan and has yet to begin formal negotiations with the state of Vermont for a land lease at the airport property.
Gaucher described the entity as “a team of people that have an affection for Middlebury,” led by an individual with a summer home in this region and who “travels quite a bit.”
He said this team would like to have ready access to its airplanes at the Middlebury airport.
“They are going to bring two planes and a helicopter into that hangar, and they also expressed to me that they have an interest in underwriting the costs around a new fuel delivery system at the airport, making that publicly available, and underwriting the costs associated with the equipment so we can have instrument-led approaches — GPS equipment — so we can make the airport more safe, especially in foul weather,” Gaucher told the selectboard at a Sept. 22 meeting.
While the prospective applicant’s proposal would not create new jobs in the area, it would result in additional amenities at the airport that would make airplane travel safer and more convenient, according to Gaucher.
“Not only is it the first private source of investment that we have had in the airport in quite some time, it is also bringing the airport, from my perspective, from the 19th century into the 21st century,” Gaucher said. “To have GPS and instrument approaches at the Middlebury airport, parallel with a 700-foot (runway) extension, is really great news.”
But some airport neighbors are not sharing Gaucher’s enthusiasm. A handful of those neighbors turned out at the Sept. 22 selectboard meeting to express concerns that they had not been informed of the potential airport development sooner.
“It violates the trust that we had,” said Richard Terk, leader of the Middlebury Airport Neighborhood Association. “If we have that trust we are supposed to have and work together, you can’t be throwing stuff out without at least talking to us about it beforehand. We certainly deserve the right to know what’s going on and not to be blindsided.”
Gaucher explained he only learned the news the day after a Sept. 16 meeting between Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) officials and airport neighbors relating to a proposed $3.5 million package of a Middlebury airport upgrades that includes a 700-foot runway extension. Some airport neighbors are concerned that a longer runway, coupled with new amenities like a jet fueling system, could usher in more traffic with larger aircraft to the small airport.
Some residents, including Wiger-Grohs, added they are not keen about a helicopter being stationed at the airport, citing noise concerns.
“Having jets come in to that airport is a concern, along with additional helicopters,” Wiger-Grohs said.
VTrans officials contend the proposed runway extension and related repaving work is intended to create safer approach and takeoff areas for incoming and outgoing airplanes.
More than 200 airport-area residents signed a petition earlier this year stating their concerns about the airport project and its potential impacts on the neighborhood. The petition also calls for better communication between project planners and neighbors.
Gaucher said jet fuel is used in airplanes that have propellers and by helicopters with rotors, and is not necessarily a harbinger of larger, more powerful aircraft coming into Middlebury.
“It is important to note that this is a private entity that is making the potential investment,” Gaucher said. “The aircraft that these people will be bringing to Middlebury are not jets.”
He added VTrans officials have indicated no additional plans over the next 20 years for a further Middlebury runway extension or to make additional investments beyond the $3.5 million project proposal.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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