The very mention of the proposed expansion of a small local airport automatically conjures up images of a giant 747 landing in some folks backyards. That's precisely what drew a standing room only crowd to the Berkeley Township Municipal building Wednesday night.

The Pinelands Commission held a public hearing on its Memorandum of Agreement (M.O.A) with Ocean County to expand the Robert J. Miller Airpark. Problem is, the plans call for construction on protected lands. Dr. Emile Devito with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation says their main objection is the county's plans to use open space trust money. "Dedicated open space trust funds should not be being used to mitigate habitat loss."

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Carlton Mongomery with the Pinelands Preservation Alliance says their biggest concern is the impact on land that's not supposed to be developed any further. "This airport happens to be located in the Pinelands Preservation area. Here the Pinelands Commission is proposing to allow a certain amount of additional development at the airpark in exchange for protecting some other land." He and other advocates believe the use of the trust funds sets a precedent, creating a slippery slope that will encourage development in other sensitive areas.

However, Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director John Bartlett said he was angry with Environmental Groups for spreading misinformation about the airpark and he came out to clear the air. "We did not buy the airpark fifty years ago for its natural lands opportunities. It was bought by the Freeholders for the purpose of building an airport and we'd like to now build a crosswinds runway at the airport that the F.A.A supports and in fact will fund and we would like to replace that land with our natural lands trust fund money which we already collect."

County officials and airpark advocates spoke mostly about the safety benefits of building a crosswind runway, parallel taxiway and additional hangers. James Candeletti of the Ocean Air Support Squadron says "mostly in the Spring and the Fall when the winds are strongest it creates a situation where the aircraft gets pushed off the runway." He says the crosswind runway allows planes to land with the wind.

Pinelands Commission Spokesman Paul Leakan says their hope was to have public comment from both sides and they're very pleased with the turnout. He says "Our Executive Director will look at the comments and ultimately respond and produce a document which will provide a recommendation to the Commission as to whether or not approve the agreement."

He says the Commission will overall weigh all the comments, information and factors to decide if the M.O.A is something that should be approved. The fifteen member Commission Board of Directors will ultimately decide on whether or not to approve it.

Written comments will be accepted until Friday April 20th and will not be extended. Comments can be e-mailed on the Pinelands Commission's website at nj.gov/pinelands