Airport Governance Debated Council to Hold Special Session August 10

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Thursday August 10, 2017

The South Burlington City Council has been reviewing a proposed joint regional airport governance resolution drafted by Tom Chittenden in recent months. At their July 17 meeting, after expressing reticence regarding some of the items, councilors agreed to hold a special meeting to discuss points of contention in an effort to arrive at a document everyone could agree upon. Given this plan, several councilors were surprised to see the resolution on their August 7 agenda, warned for potential action. After a lengthy debate, action was delayed and a special meeting was scheduled for August 10.

The purpose of Chittenden’s resolution is to give South Burlington and other neighboring communities more of a say in airport decisions. The three page resolution calls for a transition from a City of Burlington owned and run airport to a regional governance structure where the state owns the airport and the neighboring communities of South Burlington, Winooski, Williston, Colchester, Essex and Shelburne all have a voice in the decision making.

The resolution contains several categories of “whereas” items that detail the main concerns the council and neighboring communities have had over the years including the airport’s long term economic viability as well as the lack of voice communities other than Burlington have in influencing airport decisions that affect the entire region. South Burlington, where the Burlington International Airport is located, has a growing list of differences with the City of Burlington, who owns the airport, over various airport related issues, especially those involving the Chamberlin neighborhood which has seen nearly 200 homes demolished due to airport noise.

The resolution concludes with three“be it resolved,”items. One states that it is in the best interest of all involved for ownership of the airport to be transferred to the state or a regional governing body. The second stipulates that the Mayor of Burlington build a committee with representatives from all stakeholders, to prepare and implement a plan for transition of ownership of the airport and recommend a governance structure. Finally, the third point is designed to address the possibility that neither one is acted upon in a “reasonable amount of time.” If this occurred, the resolution requests that the Governor appoint a committee of representatives from the affected communities to develop a plan to transition ownership to the state.

At the July meeting, Meaghan Emery expressed concern toward moving to a regional governance model, stating that the document puts the interests of the region ahead of those of the city. She suggested an idea where all communities impacted by airport operations pool a set amount of financial resources and use those toward either a berm or acquiring open land closer to the Quebec/Vermont border to build a new airport. At Monday’s meeting she expressed disappointment that a special work session had not been held in advance of seeing the resolution again. She pointed to areas of the document that needed to be addressed in order to separate conjecture from fact, such as the statement that Shelburne and Williston are impacted by the airport as much as South Burlington and Winooski. Emery said she would like the “errors to be dealt with” and expressed concern about the accelerated timetable, noting that sending the resolution to other communities, before it had been vetted by South Burlington’s council, had been premature. Winooski’s city council unanimously adopted the resolution in its original form July 17.

Nowak agreed with many of Emery’s statements adding that she would not be able to vote in favor of the resolution as it currently stood. Nowak said there were more productive ways to engage with the airport and that she is more interested in sound mitigation. “If this doesn’t work, what’s your out?” Nowak asked Chittenden. “What happens if you don’t get the results you’re looking for?” she inquired. She noted there were both deficiencies and inaccuracies in the resolution and reiterated her idea for gathering a panel of local experts from the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation (GBIC), the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC), and representatives from the Governor’s office, specifically in the transportation arena.

The idea of a different form of governance for the airport is not a new one, and Chittenden noted that expert opinions were already documented in a 2013 study, “Analysis of Governance Options for Burlington International Airport,” conducted by Frasca & Associates for the airport’s strategic planning committee.

Tim Barritt thought the resolution was worth a try, noting the numerous resolutions the council has approved in an attempt to spur action on the part of Burlington and the airport. Riehle added that communications with the airport and FAA haven’t just happened; they have occurred, in part due to resolutions. She also noted that the city still has not received a response from Burlington to this governance document, their MOU to halt home buyouts, or a request to set up a joint city council meeting. If the council could arrive at unanimity, the resolution could hold more weight.

“This is the most important issue in South Burlington,” Chittenden said after listening intently to the comments. He believes implementation of the resolution could help resolve ongoing conflicts. Chittenden offered to drop whatever “whereas”items councilors wanted and to have as many meetings as necessary to arrive at agreement.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, residents George Maille and James Leas presented a document to the council as an alternative to the regional airport governance resolution drafted by Chittenden. In their proposal, South Burlington would have joint ownership of the airport with Burlington; the airport would be owned by two communities, and other communities would have a seat at the table for governance. This would allow South Burlington to accept grants, and to have a voice in decision making, including budget development and approval. Maille pointed out that many of the council’s concerns were already addressed in state statute without introducing any new laws, and he asked them to reconsider some of the ‘be it resolved’ items.

The special meeting will take place at City Hall, August 10 at 6:30.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent