The airport’s runway currently stretches 2,650 feet north to south across the Dover and Wilmington town line. The Hermitage plans to extend the runway another 1,800 feet through phase one of their master plan for developing Haystack Mountain. A public meeting following the site visit allowed abutting property owners to weigh in with their concerns about noise, aesthetics, and the frequency of the airport’s use.
Scheduling of the public meeting was a re-do of sorts as the DRB was forced to re-warn the meeting, after a realization that abutters living in Dover could, in fact, participate as interested parties. The DRB was forced to inform all abutters in Dover, after checking with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and discovering that all those “adversely impacted” by the project needed to be notified.
For abutters Barbara and John O’Mara, who live on Airport Road, noise level is a primary concern, and Ken Kaliski, senior director of Resource System Group in White River Junction, was on hand to explain decibel levels the airport and its neighbors will experience. Currently, the FAA’s decibel limit for B1 airports is 65 decibels. Kaliski explained that the Hermitage decided to cap their decibel limit at 55 for nighttime activity and 60 for daytime use. Kaliski also explained to the board that there is only one type of jet that will land and take off at the airport that is louder within a half-mile radius than the planes that currently use the airport.
Barbara O’Mara asked if it was possible for the airport to ensure the decibel levels are in check. “My concern is, will we have larger planes coming in when we open the gates to this,” said O’Mara. “Because it’s not just us that will be affected, it’s the whole area.” Bob Rubin, of the Hermitage, said that because the airport was a B1 airport, only B1-level planes, which have specific decibel levels, could land. The O’Maras stated they were not opposed to the airport, but asked that it be open during “reasonable hours” of 8 am to 8 pm, rather than the proposed 7 am to 10 pm.
While 75% of takeoffs from the airport begin at the south end of the runway, there are 19 houses within the 55-decibel range. The O’Maras, who live near the north end of the runway, also asked if there could be a limit on the number of planes taking off per day. According to Kaliski, that number currently sits at an average of 9.8 per day.
“Average is one of the least useful numbers,” said DRB chair Nicki Steel, “because when looking at the peak days, maybe just 20 times a year there are over 14 (in a day), and there are 50 days where not even five are landing.”
Hermitage attorney Bob Fisher said that an Act 250 permit awarded to then-owner Bob North in 1991 planned for an average of five planes per day on peak days, with 12 or more flights on holiday weekends. Another estimation the group had was 577 flights per year, an average of 1.6 per day. “There’s no way to control how many,” said Fisher.
Laurie Newton, representing abutter Mount Snow as an interested party, said the resort was hoping for a maximum daily number of planes allowed to land in order to maximize safety and cut down on noise. The resort is also concerned about future development at the golf course that abuts the north end of the runway.
“We would oppose a maximum because it’s tough to control these things,” said Fisher. “ An average of five probably worked when you average over the course of a year. I realize Mount Snow has rights to tie-downs at the airport too, and I would think they would want to keep as flexible as possible since they have rights to tie-downs for their clientele.”
Pilot Kenneth Bell testified that he had never seen more than eight to 10 planes at the airport in one day, and the increase in gasoline prices over the years has decreased flight travel. “I would like to see the numbers you use to compare to Bennington and Rutland’s airports,” said Bell. “It would be an eye opener to see how many actually come into those airports. The whole aviation world is subdued now and it’s different than when gas was 90 cents.”
The Hermitage has already entered into agreement with Tradewind Aviation, a charter flight company that flies jets from airports on Cape Cod to Winchester, NY, and Teterboro, NJ. This is intended to bring more traffic to the runway, but Jennifer Comely, of Comely Associates, who performed a traffic survey of Country Club and Airport roads, said it will increase car traffic as well. Comley said that using a Vermont Department of Transportation average and adding the 10-flight-per-day average, the airport would increase road travel by 34 additional daily trips. Adding that to the 84 trips that residents of the area make, the average daily total at peak is 118 trips.
Rubin pointed out that part of the master plan was to fix and open an old road that cuts through the east tract land the Hermitage bought from the town of Wilmington in September. Rubin said once this road was opened, it would be gated and used as an access point from Wilmington for emergency services as well as a possible access road for travelers to the Hermitage’s lodging. The road will also be used for construction vehicles bringing fill from the Hermitage base lodge’s construction site to the airport.
With the expansion of the airport, Richard Covey, Wilmington Assistant Fire Chief, said that his department would need to undergo special air disaster training, which Rubin said the Hermitage would cover the cost of. “We’re required to,” said Covey. “Right now we have no one qualified for that.”
Another piece of the puzzle to solve is whether the airport project qualifies as a nonconforming pre-existing use. Rubin argued that this is the correct classification as the airport was approved for opening as a public airport in 1969. “Wilmington’s zoning went into effect March 5, 1968, and you would think in 1969, if the airport is going in, that under definition of land development, your zoning administrator at the time would have been all over it,” said Rubin. “There is no file existing in the Wilmington zoning office.
“In 1991, Bob North went for expansion and an Act 250 permit. Wilmington was a party in that in 1991, and there was no zoning permit, yet Wilmington knew about it. There are Act 250 questions on the municipal impact done through Act 250, and no zoning permit. This reinforces that this was a pre-existing nonconforming use.”
“Our argument is you review this with sole regard to pre-existing nonconforming use,” said Fisher. “We tried to cover all criteria so we’re not in a position where you review it and we go back and forth for six months.”
The DRB has 45 days to make a decision.