Council Grapples with Airport Resolutions

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Thursday February 09, 2017

Over the past month, the South Burlington City Council has hosted a number of special meetings to hear from residents and to debate the complexities of the FAA’s home buyout program in the airport neighborhood. The council ultimately passed a resolution January 23 that challenges the airport’s Land Inventory and Re-use Plan and the FAA funded home buyout, as well as the process which currently has 39 homes slated for purchase and demolition prior to the start of a noise mitigation program for remaining homes. The city is also asking for better communication and a seat at the table when future decisions are being made by the FAA and Burlington International Airport, with the idea of preserving affordable housing in the Chamberlin neighborhood.

However, the approval and submission of the resolution hasn’t ended council conversations over this contentious issue. At the February 6 council meeting, Pat Nowak, Meghan Emery, and Tom Chittenden presented motions or resolutions for consideration related to the home buyout program, sound insulation program, and airport governance.

On Monday, prior to presenting her motion regarding airport related matters, Nowak, who is the city’s airport commissioner, first wanted to set the record straight regarding accusations that she withheld information regarding grant approval and home buyouts from councilors. Nowak made a statement, noting that the role of the commissioner is “in an advisory capacity. And in the case of the buyouts we do not make the decision to buy or sell property but merely approve  information to be passed to the Burlington Finance Committee who then forwards it to the Burlington City Council for action,” she said.

In regard to the accusations, Nowak said she did in fact report on the information in question at the May 16, 2016 council meeting, during the CNAPC report.

“The minutes show that I related that 5 properties had been approved for purchase and the airport was ready to go ahead on those. But since minutes are not verbatim testimony of the meeting, I reviewed the earliest parts of the taping, which included the councilors’ reports where I was quite enthusiastic about a mitigation program to assist the over 900 homeowners in the near vicinity of BTV,” Nowak said. “ I was also asked about the 30 homes Gene Richards referenced in the May minutes. He simply made a statement that there were 30 homes remaining in the old program to be purchased. There was nothing  mentioned about a timeline, nor was there any reference to financial information. And these were part of an old program that started long before I was on your city council,” she said   

Nowak then presented a motion related to a potential FAA/airport residential sound insulation program and other programs under the FAA noise compatibility program. The motion urges the city to participate in the FAA noise compatibility program process which could include a residential sound insulation program at no cost to residents, Nowak read. After council discussion, Tim Barritt felt the motion was already superseded by the resolution they had recently passed on the 23rd. Barritt said he wouldn’t be taking action on any motion until mitigation is addressed by the airport.

Riehle concurred saying, “I find it too early to sign onto doing this, when we don’t know what it [the insulation program] is...” The motion failed 3:2 Nowak and Chittenden voting “yay”.

Emery also presented a new resolution in response to the airport’s November 14, 2016 presentation on FAA noise compatibility programs. She cited the South Burlington 2011 council positions that sought reassurance that the airport and FAA were committed to funding and building noise mitigation devices, and noted opposition to a noise abatement program that included avigation easements or prerequisite home acquisition programs until a legally warned public meeting was held, the city’s planning staff became active partners with the airport prior to grant requests being made, and that any noise abatement program be based on actual noise measurement data and 5 year projected noise modeling. Amendments were made and this resolution will be up for a vote at the February 21 meeting.

Tom Chittenden presented a resolution that took a different angle. His resolution will be up for further discussion at a later date, but focused on ownership and governance of the airport. The resolution touches on a number of issues such as loss of affordable homes in the city, the creation of unnecessary friction between cities and the airport due to lack of communication from the airport to the city and lack of responsiveness. The document ultimately requests that the governor form a study committee to consider the viability of shifting ownership of the airport from the City of Burlington to the State of Vermont. Councilors agreed the concept brings up a number of questions, not the least of which are potential financial affects on the city.

Rosanne Greco noted that the airport commission conducted a study on this very topic in 2012/2013 and the pros and cons had been discussed. This idea has also been raised as a discussion point in the state legislature according to Meaghan Emery.

Conversations around the resolutions will continue. Prior to the next council meeting, the FAA will be holding a public meeting at the airport from 5:30-7:30 p.m. February 16.

SOURCE: Corey Burdick, Correspondent