Agreement Reached Over Projects In Pinelands
After some contentious debate over the construction of a new cross runway at the Robert J Miller Airpark, the Pinewood Commission approves the memorandum of agreement with Ocean County.
It took close to seven years for the Memorandum to be complete, and according to Ocean County Planning Director Dave McKeon much of the reason for the delay was because the County needed to be able to justify the myriad of projects they had planned.
“We had to prove in advance why the projects would be necessary and then do the necessary on the environment, habitat, species, and then quantify all that.”
The Agreement addresses the future development of the airport, the most notable of which is the cross runway which would be a smaller runway which would be constructed perpendicular to the existing runway and would allow pilots an alternative for takeoffs and landings during bad conditions.
“There are many times that flights have to be either postponed, canceled, or aborted if the wind conditions aren’t right.” Says McKeon, noting “there have been several instances where planes have flipped over.”
Future plans include the construction of an additional aircraft parking apron, the construction of T hangar buildings, and the removal of tree obstructions including tree pruning and tree topping.
“Areas where the trees have grown up that they interfere with the flight paths. These are temporary impacts and in some cases there is a net benefits to certain species, snakes in particular, by topping trees.” Says McKeon, adding that 193 acres will be involved in the tree topping.
There would also be a project to shift the main runway five hundred feet away from County Route 530.
” According to FAA regulations, that runway is to close to the roadway and should be shifted back.” Says McKeon.
Though the list of things needing to be done might seem big, McKeon explains most of the projects won’t be done for ten, twenty, or even fifty years.
“But if we don’t include them today in the MOA they won’t be approved.”
The airport, who’s construction predates the Pineland’s Commission, is located in a Pineland’s forest area and a Pineland’s Preservation Area- two of the most restrictive areas in the pinelands.
“The [Pinelands] Commission determined that the airport was considered a public non conforming use.
Which means it was permitted but there were restrictions on what could happen there in the future.
The primary restriction was that the facility could not expand by more 50% of what it was prior to the adoption of the pinelands plan.”
The problem, McKeon notes is also how you measure “50%”.
“Is it capacity, is it use, is it square footage of building, is it impervious coverage? There is no concrete way to determine that fifty percent and that’s one of the other reasons we agreed to do the MOA.”
One of the stipulations of the MOA is to provide an offset for any of the impacts that would occur on the airport property (including tree removal, tree topping, and tree pruning).
McKeon says that will be done by having Pineland’s own scientists identify property that is available that the county should acquire.
“So if it’s 100 acres of prime snake habitat the Pinelands Commission would come to us and say we’ve identified these hundred acres elsewhere in the watershed and we’d like the county to permanently preserve those. ”
He adds if the land fulfills the Open Land Trust Fund requirements and is for sale the County would purchase it.
One of the biggest causes of concern from the public was the use of the Open Land Trust Fund to purchase land to justify projects in protected Pinelands. However McKeon says it is unlikely that will be a problem. Stating “there will never be anything like this airport MOA that could be used as a precedent, not just in our county but in other counties in the Pinelands.”
Additionally he said the most important part is that the acquisition of new lands is to “offset” the impacts, rather than “mitigate” them.
“This is not as a result of us doing something illegal or improper and being penalized…this is a proactive agreement to do something that is permitted on our airport and we’ve agreed to work with the pinelands experts themselves, for them to identify property.”
McKeon addresses the next process, which will be to secure funding from the FAA and the DOT for the runway.
“Historically the FAA has paid between 90 and 95 percent of the cost of these eligible airport improvement projects. The Crosswind runway is an eligible project and we’ve had discussions with the FAA district office in Harrisburg and we will shortly be filing a grant application.”
Adding there will be a matching application for the DOT which would be for offsetting any funds that the County would have to put up.
The entire Crosswind Runway project is expected to cost 6 to 7 million dollars, with the FAA expected to provide 4 million. McKeon says the County will be responsible for the difference but sometimes the DOT will step in to match half of the Counties required match.