Saratoga County officials have dropped plans to lengthen runways at the county airport in Milton, but still want to cut more trees on private property at the ends of the runways.
That’s enough to re-invigorate opposition from airport neighbors who were outraged about the runway expansion plans before the county dropped them under public pressure in June.
More than two dozen people turned out for a county Buildings and Grounds Committee meeting Monday in Ballston Spa, with several citing the disruption from jets using the airport during racing season as a concern.
“I would like the board to leave the obstructions so the jets go elsewhere,” said Douglas Klein of Grand Avenue.
The meeting was supposed to be a discussion on updating the master plan for the airport. The Federal Aviation Administration is paying most of the cost of the $361,375 study, which began in 2012 and is supposed to wrap up next month.
While airport consultants McFarland-Johnson outlined a need to acquire tree-removal easements at the ends of all four runways, Committee Chairman Dan Lewza, R-Milton, said no decisions about the plan will be made until September.
He said the county won’t take any properties by eminent domain.
“We’ll leave everything to the private landowner. It’s all up to the property owner whether they want to negotiate with the county or not,” Lewza said.
The county has been under FAA pressure to remove tall trees at runway ends since a private jet chartered by country singer Brad Paisley grazed a tree while landing in 2008. Since then, hundreds of trees have been cleared, on both airport and private property.
But Michael Churchill, project manager with McFarland-Johnson, said more will need to be done to keep the FAA-designated runway protection zones clear of potentially dangerous obstructions.
“Trees continue to grow,” he said. “There may not have been violations in the past, but there are now.”
Some trees could be “topped,” he said, while others would probably be removed.
That idea doesn’t sit well with many neighbors.
Tom Boghosian, an owner of the Old Mill Town commercial development at the end of one runway, urged residents to be angry about the government wanting to take their trees. “It’s not your trees violating the [runway protection zone] is the [runway protection zone] violating your space and my space,” he said.
Many residents think cutting trees will bring more private jets to the airport, although county officials said the character of the airport won’t change.
The airport is a private aviation facility, used mostly by people with small single-engine planes. In the summer, however, it does see a significant increase in private jets because of activity associated with Saratoga Race Course and the annual Fasig-Tipton yearling sales. It has been in Milton since World War II.
Increasing the safety for jets was one of the reasons McFarland-Johnson proposed runway expansions last spring, though the committee shot down the idea because of the outrage it provoked.
“It’s about the rich people and the money, and not about the residents,” said Charlie Samuels of Saratoga Springs.
Residents said they will return to hear the committee’s decisions on the draft master plan at a Sept. 8 meeting.