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Board to weigh airport growth


The commissioners will soon review a 20-year master plan for the Carroll County Regional Airport that calls for $60 million in improvements and an economic impact analysis that will detail jobs generated by any expansion.

The plan, put together by URS, a consulting company with an office in Hunt Valley, will "set the direction and scope of the airport for the next 20 years," said Joseph R. Varrone, administrator of performance auditing and special projects.

The consultant's effort, which costs $452,500, also includes a study, done by Martin Associates of Lancaster, Pa., on the economic implications of a larger airport.

"The economic impact of the expansion will give us a good estimate of the jobs created and the dollars generated for the county," Varrone said.

The proposed expansion of the 155-acre regional airport on Route 97 just outside Westminster would not begin until 2010 at the earliest. The Federal Aviation Administration would pay $58.8 million, the bulk of the costs of the improvements, with the county's share estimated at $1.5 million, or about 2.5 percent, officials said. The FAA has also funded all but $11,000 of the consultant's study.

The proposed project will more than double the 27-year-old facility's capacity, permitting more and larger aircraft and fueling jobs in the region, the consultants said.

The plan for the facility will be presented to the commissioners in April. Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said the report must include details on noise levels and other issues that would impact surrounding neighborhoods.

"At that point, the commissioners will weigh the benefits and costs and determine which parts of the plan should be accepted, if any," Varrone said. "Residents have listed concerns about noise and property values."

URS invited residents to a meeting of the airport's technical advisory committee this month. About 40 attended, and most expressed opposition to any expansion. The new runway would end 2,500 feet from John Stephens' home on Dotsie Drive, he said.

"Everyone is against it," Stephens said. "Our biggest concerns are for safety, devaluation of property and also for noise and light pollution. Who would want to purchase a home within a half-mile of an airport?"

Carroll County has no need for a larger airport and no indication that it would spur economic development, he said.

"A build it and they shall come philosophy is not sufficient reason for expansion," Stephens wrote in a letter to the commissioners. "What are we truly trying to accomplish?"

Corporate jets are looking for new bases because large airports such as Reagan National and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall are becoming more congested and have added restrictions on airspace after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, FAA officials said.

Larger jets, which are becoming more popular and prevalent, need longer runways that will allow them to take off with full fuel tanks. Many jets using regional airports have to land for refueling at larger airports before continuing on cross-country journeys.

The proposed plan calls for construction of a 6,400-foot runway, 1,300 feet longer than the existing runway. The project would include a new parallel taxiway. The runway and taxi area could accommodate aircraft with wider wingspans and planes making lower approaches.

When Edmund Klebe bought his home in Westminster five years ago, he found no plans to enlarge the airport, he said. The county should focus its economic development efforts on its roadways, he said, and leave the airport the size it is.

"The county is putting the cart before the horse," Klebe said. "Upgrades to the road networks surrounding the airport, which are terrible, should be integrated into the airport plan. The airport won't generate jobs or economic activity unless you first make the roads better. How will you get people out of there? In helicopters?"

Arlene Cook, who lives in Pinch Valley near the airport, said the county has not been forthcoming with the airport plans. URS failed to notify several adjoining property owners of the meetings on the issue, she said.

"Carroll County has enough jobs," Cook said. "A bigger airport might draw bigger corporations but that would probably mean bigger problems. People can go to Frederick if they want a bigger airport."

That airport, along with Easton, Martin State Airport in eastern Baltimore County and Hagerstown, are all planning major reconstruction projects and expansions. Frederick is considering a 7,000-foot runway, and Hagerstown is building a 7,000-foot runway at a cost of $64 million.

The Carroll proposal also recommends building more hangars at a cost of about $12 million. That expansion would make use of 14 adjoining acres that the commissioners purchased two years ago for $1.3 million.

The county's seven corporate hangars and the smaller hangars are all leased, and a growing waiting list shows that demand exists for more.

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