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February 07. 2013 10:44PM

Lebanon city council, residents concerned about runway project

LEBANON - Concerns over the environmental and financial impact of the city airport's proposed runway project caused members of the City Council to ask for more information Wednesday night and postpone a vote that would move the project to the funding stage.

A vote to approve the environmental assessment study has now been postponed until March.

"We don't really feel like we have the information we need to make that decision and we're being asked to spend a lot of money and have a significant impact on the community," said Ward 1 council member Suzanne M. Prentiss. "Making a decision like this I want to have every piece of information and then vote it up or down."

Though Prentiss represents the ward in which the Lebanon Municipal Airport is located, her concerns go beyond the possible noise level changes caused by shortening the east-west runway and lengthening the north-south runway, she said.

In the Wednesday night meeting, residents from Ward 1 as well as other parts of the city crowded into the meeting chambers and overflowed into an adjoining room and hallway.

More than 100 city residents signed a petition against the project before the meeting, Prentiss said. "There is considerable opposition to this."

For the city that subsidizes the airport, this project represents a $650,000 to $1.3 million hit for taxpayers, she said.

The city has worked hard to reduce the taxpayer burden caused by its subsidy of the airport, which last year was only $200,000, she said. The Federal Aviation Administration would fund part of the project, but the city would also fund part of it.

As an example, the last airport project was the construction of a new hanger that was to have brought in revenue to the city and airport but instead has only cost tax payers, Prentiss said.

Aside from the financial impact, the project includes ground and tree removal that would have a lasting impact on the neighborhoods surrounding the airport.

The project is necessary because of a change in Federal Aviation Administration rules that requires a longer runway for the corporate jets that fly into the airport.

Airport Manager Rick Dyment said the airport and its runways are safe, and the goal of the project is to meet the new FAA design standards.

"The first step is for City Council concurrence and then the next step is to secure funding and permitting from the FAA and state agencies," Dyment said.

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