Airport Taxiway Project Vetted by DRB: City Manager Pushes for “Once in a Lifetime” Berm Solution

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Thursday March 30, 2017

Concurrent with the Noise Compatibility Program (NCP) conversations, the looming effects of the anticipated F-35s, and the working relationship between South Burlington and City of Burlington/Burlington International Airport, the city is also assessing the impacts of yet another happening at the airport: major infrastructure upgrades.

For nearly two years, the airport has been planning and actively fixing its infrastructure to meet design standards. The Vermont Air National Guard is updating its infrastructure in preparation for the F-35s. Per the process of this taking place within South Burlington’s jurisdiction, the Development Review Board (DRB) and planning staff have been assessing the applications as they have come in.

In fact, last month the DRB re-opened the City of Burlington/Burlington International Airport’s most recent application for taxiway improvements after spotting permit violations and issues with performance standards.

In doing so, not only has board and staff collected more information regarding traffic and noise impacts on residents, but the project also unveiled a potential sound mitigation solution which has been brought to the airport’s attention and contemplated at the most recent DRB meeting.

The Project

The site plan vetted by the DRB (#SP-16-82) proposes a number of taxiway upgrades as well as stormwater updates in response to the net increase of impervious surface. The airport proposes realigning Taxiway “G,” to run parallel with Runway 15/33, which would push the new taxiway closer, about 150 feet away from the neighborhood. Relocating Taxiway G follows the construction of Taxiway K, which opened last summer. Together, these taxiways connect to become a long taxiway parallel with Runway 15/33.

Taxiways “M” and “H” will be rebuilt up to the edge of the runway. Taxiway “A” will also be reconfigured for safety reasons.

The fill and debris from the taxiway project, estimated at over 70,000 cubic yards, is being transported to a quarry on the south end of the airport. In order to access this quarry, construction trucks need to exit the airport, enter onto Airport Drive, and re-enter the airport premises.

Up until the March 21 DRB meeting, the plan additionally included construction of a new aircraft holding bay at the northwest end of the airport to provide a temporary parking place for aircraft waiting for clearance. This portion has been retracted due to an issue with a performance standard; it will be brought to the board as a separate application.

Earlier this year, during a site visit, city staff witnessed an aircraft blowing snow all the way to Airport Parkway from an existing holding area. Under the proposed site plan, the holding bay would be immediately adjacent to the fence line, about 300 feet closer than present conditions. Seeing this as an issue with performance standards, it was one of the grounds for re-opening the application. Stantec Consulting later returned with an earth berm proposed.

Moreover, south of the berm is a vegetated gully on South Burlington property which, if filled and provided an easement, could serve as a place for a blast wall. A blast wall would only block debris and would not serve as a strong noise barrier.

In the end, Ray Belair, the City’s administrative zoning officer, noted that part of the berm is on a property not listed on the application, and the airport would need to submit another application to include the berm. The airport retracted the holding bay and berm from the application in order to go forward with taxiway updates.

This wasn’t the only issue that brought Project Lead Jon Leinwohl of Stantec Consulting, the airport’s Director of Engineering Amanda Clayton, and Kimberlee J. Sturtevant, Esq., assistant city attorney for Burlington back before the board. There were alterations made to the site plan without approval, the airport needed to apply for a Certificate of Occupancy, and the City found out after-the-fact that the Air National Guard had placed more than the approved cubic yards of fill into the quarry without a zoning permit. The airport has appealed these violations, continuing the appeals (#AO-17-01 and #AO-17-02) to May 2, and is taking action to obtain the necessary permits.

Reevaluation of this project also gave way to a traffic analysis for an Act 250 permit application regarding the truck trips to the quarry. The analysis was broken down from 2017-2018 construction season totals by assuming a 21-week construction season, six-day work weeks and 10-hour days. Stantec estimated about 5,500 truck trips for 2017 and 6,400 for 2018.

Given that there will be night work involved, the board pressed the airport to mitigate the noise by limiting the number of times trucks would need to back up.

The Berming Question

What if there were a way to eliminate the truck traffic altogether?

After meeting with Stantec engineers and city planning staff, City Manager Kevin Dorn requested to use the fill to build a berm on the northwest side of the airport rather than spend time and money transporting it to the south end. It is calculated that the fill amount from Taxiway G would create a berm about 30-ft. high and 2,100 ft. long.

Taxiway G is an eligible project funded by the Airport Improvement Program (AIP); AIP provides grants to public (and sometimes private owners and entities) for planning and development of public use airports included in the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. The money comes from the airport and Airway Trust Fund, which is a combination of user fees, fuel taxes, among other sources

Dorn said that the AIP funds are being used for a taxiway reconstruction project, not the 14 CFR Part 150 Noise Compatibility Program, a voluntary program that strategizes ways to reduce noise for those who live close to noise-impacted areas. Therefore, the request from the city would be different in nature, he said.

“This truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity where the requisite amount of material is available at no additional cost immediately adjacent to where the berm would be created,” Dorn wrote to Director of Aviation Gene Richards after speaking with Stantec and city staff in mid-February.

Dorn sees this as an opportunity to work together in a creative and immediately accomplishable step in the mosaic of noise abatement solutions.

Leinwohl himself mentioned using the fill for the earth berm that will be a separate application: “As far as the berm goes, there is material that would be available from the taxiway project that would be right there.”

All this considered, Richards denied Dorn’s request. If a large berm were built for noise mitigation purposes, it would still need to go through another Part 150 Study.

According to the March 20 Airport Commission minutes, Richards said that the FAA does not consider berms to be effective and will not fund them. The airport does not have the financial capability to fund the work and cannot lose the land capacity and still function as an airport.

The airport’s construction timeline can be found on the website.

SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent