February 26. 2013 8:54PM

Community committee set to start talks on Keene airport tree cutting

Union Leader Correspondent

KEENE - A community liaison committee formed to make a recommendation to the city regarding the Keene Dillant-Hopkins Airport tree-cutting project, prompted by Federal Aviation Administration regulations, begins meeting next week.

The first meeting is planned to be held at City Hall on March 5.

Committee members representing the Edgewood neighborhood that is in danger of losing its quarter-mile thick pine buffer from the airport say they want to continue to coexist with the airport, with the buffer to protect the neighborhood as well as protect the city from pollution.

"If those trees are gone, all that pollution is going downtown," said Edgewood resident Richard Hersom on Tuesday. "It's going to have a negative impact, not only on our neighborhood, but on Keene."

Keene Mayor Kendall Lane appointed the committee in January to work closely with city-hired consultants after residents of the 100-year-old Edgewood community opposed city plans to clear cut the buffer that sits between the neighborhood and the airport.

"We've always lived here with the airport," Hersom said. "And as it stands now, we don't really have a problem. When we moved here, we knew there was an airport here. What they are doing is changing the game."

Hersom was appointed to the committee along with Edgewood resident Tim Dunn. The committee also includes a city conservation commission member, a C&S Wholesale Grocers pilot, an Antioch University New England professor of environmental studies and State Rep. Alfred "Gus" Lerandeau of Swanzey.

"Without this forest the property values would plummet," Dunn said.

The Keene Dillant-Hopkins Airport has two runways on approximately 1,000 acres. It is a small airport used by private pilots and corporations.

Hersom, Dunn and another Edgewood resident, Dominick Tralli, question the city's need for an airport and said perhaps the FAA and city-supported airport should have to be self-supporting.

"Progress may not be making something like this more viable because it's going to have a negative impact on not only on us, but on Keene," Dunn said. "Only governments can afford, because they pick all of our pockets every year, only governments can afford to run a business at a loss every year because they can make it up through taxes."

If the city does not comply with FAA regulations and complete the project, it would lose its FAA funding.

State Department of Transportation Director of Aeronautics, Rail and Transit Patrick C. Herlihy said Tuesday that the role a small airport like Dillant-Hopkins plays is complex.

The FAA funds a system of airports across the country because they play a vital role in interstate commerce.

"It's part of what's called the National Airspace System, so there are opportunities for airplanes that are up in the air, if they need to come down, there are places they can do it," Herlihy said.

The FAA regulation calling for the tree cutting is not new, but was enacted in 1965 to maintain a pilot's visibility approaching a runway.

FAA regulations have not changed, the trees have grown, said Tricia Lambert of the state DOT Aeronautics Bureau.

"You have to do something to mitigate them," she said.

Herlihy said the most likely solution would be selective cutting, to maintain the buffer and appease the FAA.

"It's a reasonable solution that is currently being evaluated," Herlihy said, adding the community input on the project is important.

The committee's recommendation would go to city officials, who would make the final decision on the project, Herlihy said.