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October 13. 2013 8:51PM

Lebanon airport loses federal funding for improvements

LEBANON — The Lebanon Municipal Airport has lost Federal Aviation Administration funding for a 2014 building project, but safety and environmental projects will continue to receive funding from the federal agency.

City Manager Gregg Lewis said Friday what’s needed now is a comprehensive airport master plan to assess the airport’s potential and determine its future use.

The building project funding was pulled after City Council members decided last spring to take no action on a runway extension project the FAA wanted the city to undertake.

The million dollar-plus project to construct a garage building at the airport is now on hold.

The FAA was expected to fund 90 percent of the cost and the New Hampshire Department of Transportation was expected to fund 5 percent. The airport itself would fund the remaining 5 percent.

“We’ll just wait until FAA funding is available, or we’ll look into other ways to fund it,” said Rick Dyment, airport manager. “I wouldn’t want to say that we lost money, but we will have to come up with alternative projects that are acceptable to them. … City funding isn’t envisioned at this time.”

The runway extension project was expected to have had an impact on the surrounding community.

“A hill would have to be lowered by 30 or 40 feet,” Dyment said, and “About 40 acres of trees would have been cleared.”

“We’ll still get FAA funds. It’s just that they will only fund certain things,” Dyment said.

The airport was created by the city in 1941 when voters at the town meeting approved the purchase of 624 acres on Slack Hill and then completed an agreement with the federal government to use the land as an airport.

Lewis held an “Airport Summit” in the city earlier this year to discuss the airport’s history, current conditions, and its future.

The proposed runway extension project brought out community opposition that questioned the need to fund a project that would impact the community. Some residents of the city don’t see the need for the municipal airport and are concerned about continuing to invest federal, state and city taxpayer dollars into the facility.

“The Council wasn’t happy with the runway expansion projects proposed,” Lewis said, and ultimately decided to take no action.

“By focusing only on one runway, it became a narrow focus and a lighting-rod for people who had concerns about their neighborhoods or the use of city money,” Lewis said.

Many in the region, though, see the airport as an important resource.

Lebanon Municipal Airport is one of two airports in the state, the other being Manchester, that offers airline service.

The airport is also used by private pilots and corporate jets.

Lewis said the airport service to Boston and New York City is a huge asset not only for Dartmouth College, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and area corporations, but for Upper Valley families like his. His son, a resident of New York City, has flown in on the airport’s commercial airline, Cape Air, several times for holidays, he said.

Lewis said that in his experience managing municipalities or counties — he has worked both in New York State and Minnesota — he knows the value of conducting a comprehensive airport master plan to help a community determine the purpose of a small local airport.

“A master plan would explain to all the community members and stakeholders, regionally, ‘How can this airport find its particular place in the market place,’” Lewis said.

In November and December, the city council will discuss adding the master plan project to the Capital Improvement Plan budget, Lewis said.

This is the beginning of a two-year process of studies and public hearings, all of which the FAA will be invited to, Lewis said. “We feel that this is a good process so we can satisfy our community. It will have a very intense public dialogue.”

For now, safety and environmental projects at the city airport continue to be funded by the FAA, Lewis said.

“We are working with the FAA on an ongoing basis and they are funding projects that we are doing right now at the airport,” he said.

mpierce@newstote.com


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