Army Corps: Airport Authority application unfit for evaluation (The Iotla Site)
(Note: Moral of the story: Watch out for the little things. They'll get ya every time. Little birds. Little horses. Little details...etc...)
Thursday, 11 February 2010
Airport Authority Chairman Milles Gregory addressed commissioners at their Mar. 9, 2009 meeting, stating that the extension is needed for safety but should also help bring in jobs.
By Marla Dalrymple
The Army Corps of Engineers has requested more information from the Macon County Airport Authority. The Authority has until Feb. 12 to respond to the Corps’ letter of requests.
The Macon County Airport Authority submitted a permit application to the Department of the Army Corps of Engineers in October of last year, seeking authorization to impact 5.72 acres of wetlands and 809 linear feet of stream. The Authority is seeking impact authorization in order to extend the runway at the airport. The proposed project consists of extending the runway, the associated taxiway and runway safety area 600 feet to the west and removing wildlife attractants near the runway.
Lori Beckwith, Regulatory Specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers Asheville Regulatory Field Office, wrote a response to the Airport Authority which outlined steps the Authority must take in order to have the application evaluated. Beckwith stated that the Authority must “submit additional information necessary for this office to continue the review of [the] permit request.”
The Corps of Engineers received 37 comment letters and emails from area property owners and organizations, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
According to Beckwith, many of the comments from area property owners and organizations were similar and addressed concerns over impacts to the water quality of Iotla Creek and the Little Tennessee River, impacts to federally listed threatened or endangered species and critical habitat, impacts to archaeological resources, future development in the area, potential increases to property taxes, impacts on air quality, noise pollution and aesthetics, an increase in traffic and safety concerns for area residents and an adjacent school.
Beckwith advised the Authority to respond to all comments from the public. “Please respond with additional information other than what is in the Environmental Assessment,” she wrote in the letter, “as this information does not fully satisfy our evaluation requirements.”
Comments received also focused on concern that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the National Historic Preservation Action were not complied with, stated Beckwith. Issues mentioned in the letter are that the project’s Environmental Assessment contained outdated information, that human remains and graves will not be protected at the site, impacts to the Trading Path were not addressed, the Eastern Band and other Tribes did not sign the Memorandum of Agreement and not all Federally recognized Native American tribes that attach religious and cultural significance to the site were invited to consult.
Beckwith said that letters of comment also expressed that an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared, questioned the stated needs for the extension, stated that consultation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife had not been conducted properly, that the entire process had not been open to the public and requested a public hearing.
Letters and emails written in support of the proposed project cited the need for expansion in order to contribute to economic well being and improvement of the local economy, acknowledged that the Airport Authority had re-designed and elevated the proposed runway in order to protect areas known to have artifacts present, noted that several local businesses depend on the airport, that the airport has existed in the same location for nearly 40 years and that the primary need for the extension is to address safety.
In addition to asking the Airport Authority to address all concerns raised by the and by local organizations, Beckwith asked for more information in regard to policies followed and possible improper process.
In the letter, Beckwith stated that the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) was not invited to be a participating agency in the proposed project. “As such,” stated Beckwith, “the draft Environmental Assessment distributed for comment in 2007 contained no valid jurisdictional delineation/determination for waters of the U.S. on the property, nor was this EA sent to the USACE for comment.”
Due to these circumstances, she said, the Airport Authority’s application is inadequate for evaluation. “In addition to responding to the comments detailed in this letter,” stated Beckwith, “please describe any off-site alternatives you considered and explain why these are or are not practicable and clarify the applicant’s main purpose for the project, and any secondary purposes.”
Beckwith also asked the Authority to address concerns over the National Environmental Policy Act in regard to cultural and historic resources located at the site of the proposed project. “Please provide correspondence,” she said, “from the FAA that specifically states their NEPA determination of effects, to include significance of the effects, to all cultural/historic resources which would be affected by implementation of the proposed project.”
The Army Corps’ letter seeks more information from the Authority about planned or possible future development around the airport. “Please provide specific information as to future plans for the development of related, but not necessarily similarly funded projects, in the vicinity of the airport and scheduled dates for these projects,” stated Beckwith.
If the proposed airport project were authorized by the USACE, explained Beckwith, such authorization could not be used as justification for future proposals to impact waters of the U.S. on or off the airport property.
Macon County commissioners have been discussing a possible commercial park to surround the airport as early as 1995, meeting minutes reveal. The first step was expansion of the airport itself.
County Manager Jack Horton said this week that W.K. Dickson, the engineering firm hired through the Airport Authority, is working on the points the Army Corps said needs to be addressed. Horton said he has not been contacted in regard to current plans of a commercial park in Iotla Valley.
Horton said he believes the county Economic Development Commission sent a response to W.K. Dickson indicating that there are no immediate plans for an industrial park. “We’re just working on the airport and the school at this time,” he said. “The county is not working on a business park at this time.”
“Please be advised,” stated Beckwith in her letter to the Airport Authority, “that until we receive the information requested, we cannot evaluate the probable impacts, including cumulative impacts, of the proposed activity on the public interest factors, nor make a determination of compliance …”
The Corps of Engineers gave the Authority 30 days from receipt of Beckwith’s letter to submit the information. The letter was stamped as received by the Authority on Jan. 13, 2010.
“I will reopen the application once all information requested is submitted,” said Beckwith.
Airport Authority meeting of Jan. 26
At the regularly scheduled Airport Authority meeting, held at the Macon County Airport on Jan. 26, runway extension project engineer and consultant Eric Rysdon of W.K. Dickson announced that he foresaw no problems forthcoming in getting the final permits necessary for the expansion.
Rysdon said the Authority had received the comments from the permit application open comment period. He said the Authority had been asked to “address some of the questions that were written to us. So that’s really what we’re in the process of going through and doing right now. I am still in the process of writing my responses. I’ll submit it to the Corps and we’ll go from their response to my comment response.”
Four members of the local Save Iotla Valley Citizen’s Group also attended the meeting. The group had originally compiled questions for the Authority in June at the suggestion of Authority Chairman Milles Gregory. To date, no response has been given to interested parties who contributed questions.
“We’ve been very disappointed with the situation,” said One Save Iotla Valley member, Olga Pader. “People have gotten to the point of feeling hopeless.”
At the meeting, Pader said, “I drive Iotla Road every day and feel what is happening is an abomination.”
Rysdon said, “Airports are like ... airports, water treatment plants, fire departments ... it’s one of those things everybody needs but nobody wants it next to them, unfortunately.” To Authority members, he said, “You hear different points of view, and that’s like anything.” Rysdon said that businesses, whether small or large, are attracted to airports.
Save Iotla Valley member Dolly Reed said the discussion at the Airport Authority meeting made the whole process seem like “a done deal.” Reed said, “It sounded to me that everything had passed.”