Op/Ed

Editorial: Dueling arguments prompt call for airport task force

ANGELO LYNN

Two stories in today’s Addison Independent focus on the business side of Middlebury’s State Airport, and its economic development potential. Personal interviews shed light on the boon it provides to a select few businesses in the county and how it could help other existing businesses grow and attract new employees.

A previous story two weeks ago, focused on neighbors opposed to increased development, and a similar argument is presented by four East Middlebury residents (two state representatives and two selectboard members), who argue in a community forum on Page 5A that the Act 250 permit for increased development at the airport should be rejected because of the added burden such development would place on neighboring residents.

The battleground is a common theme between those who embrace economic development for all of its positive aspects, and those who oppose it because it would affect their personal peace and quiet.

From a purely Act 250 perspective, the facts likely favor the increased development at the airport. The airport is zoned for economic development; the state’s mission for its airports clearly state that economic development is a key goal and expected outcome; and the scope of the proposed Master Plan over the next 20 years is to grow just less than a modest 2% a year. The increased burden on neighbors would not appear to be cross the threshold of being “undue,” and other arguments against its development (impacts on the town’s water quality, etc.) seem like a bit of a stretch.

And it should be emphasized that the proposed Master Plan at the airport calling for several additional hangers is for planning purposes only. The additional hangers would not be built unless the demand is present, and each project would require its own permit.

That said, one could reasonably assume, based on comments in the two stories in today’s issue, that at least one or two new hangars would be built to meet existing demand. And it’s quite possible, based on the fact that other regional airports also have a shortage of hangars, that the Middlebury Airport could attract regional traffic if additional hangar space were available. That, of course, is one way local aviation businesses could grow — by filling a need that other airports can’t meet — and such growth could potentially help businesses in the greater Middlebury area.

It’s also important to note that those against more development at the airport aren’t against growth per se, just not at the existing location. If the plan is to grow airport business and traffic, they’re advocating for a different location.

While we agree that argument makes sense in theory, such a suggestion is challenged by the reality of the high costs that might entail. It turns out that runways are far more expensive than just putting down a wide lane of asphalt on a rural field (into the tens of millions), and if the costs are too high, there are other transportation priorities in town (like a roundabout at Exchange Street and Route 7) that should come first. 

These dueling and likely complex arguments only add to the need for more research so decisions are based on a more realistic assessment of potential growth at the existing airport, and how much increased burden any plausible development would pose for airport neighbors. A local task force dedicated to that single mission should be able to come up with a report in a matter of a few to several weeks, producing basic data to help town officials better inform the Act 250 hearings and contribute to the pros and cons of whatever next steps make most sense.

Angelo Lynn

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