Barnes, who said he recently entered into an agreement with the owner of the airport, told board members that there is an opportunity for the Deerfield Valley community to “reclaim the airport” and extend the current runway for larger aircraft. “As it stands today, there’s an opportunity to create an airport that will change the valley once and for all,” Barnes said. “Having a commercially viable airport would provide economic value across multiple businesses in the valley.”
Barnes said that commercial small jet traffic, mainly corporate, charter, and fractional-ownership jet aircraft, would increase property values and result in an increase in spending at local restaurants, inns, and shops. In other resort areas, Barnes said, having an airport large enough for small jet traffic has led to higher property values. And if Mount Snow Airport were to be refurbished it would be, by far, the closest airport to any resort in Vermont. “We would have an airport one mile from Haystack and one mile from Mount Snow.”
The close proximity to the resort as well as the resort’s short flight time from major East Coast commuter hub airports like Teterboro, NJ, Long Island and Westchester, NY, and Hartford, CT, would attract corporate traffic, Barnes said. “Mount Snow Airport is 22 to 34 minutes from these airports,” Barnes said. “It would open up an opportunity for people that would come to the valley for corporate events and outings. Some people would use their vacation homes more or purchase one because of the accessibility. It would open up the possibility of commercial seasonal routes.”
But the current airport, with its approximately 1,900-foot runway is too short, isn’t currently operating commercially, Barnes said, and is slated to be discontinued as an FAA-licensed facility. Barnes proposed a $1 million upgrade, which would include $400,000 for increasing the runway length to 4,400 feet, $200,000 for lighting upgrades, $200,000 for a new hanger, and $200,000 for terminal improvements. To pay for a portion of the construction, Barnes asked for a $600,000 low-interest, five-year loan from Dover. He told board members he also planned to ask Wilmington for a $200,000 low-interest, five-year loan, as well as the transfer of town-owned land on the southern end of the airport. Barnes said the money would be repaid through the collection of landing and hangar fees.
But board member Randy Terk, who was on vacation and participating by Skype, said Dover had no program from which they could lend money. “Our economic development plan doesn’t have a program for loans, grants or public assistance,” he said. “If we decide to entertain a lending program, we have to come up with a scope, and we haven’t even thought about it. It may be in our interest to consider for the future, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.”
Board member Vicki Capitani said she’d like to see the proposal broadened to include the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and other local communities. “Stratton would benefit, too, not just Wilmington and Dover. It’s a regional project.”
Dover resident Don Albano warned that a larger airport would forever change the area, something he had seen as a developer in Florida. “I appreciate the facts and figures Jim has given, but I would like to put a little water on the enthusiasm,” he said. “It will change the town of Dover, and it will change the region. You need to decide whether you want to change.”
Albano said the increase in air traffic would have an impact on the quality of life. “Even now, on weekends, whenever that guy takes off in a two-engine plane and flies over my house, I wish I had anti-aircraft guns. When the C-5s (military cargo planes) fly over my house, I say hello to the pilot and he says hello to me. When you bring in these small airliners and private jets, the experience we have in Dover now is going to be taken away. All of Country Club Road and Crosstown Road are going to be affected by the noise.”
But Albano said it was a difficult decision for the town. “It’s a dilemma because I think Jim is absolutely correct. Mount Snow will get small airlines to come in with groups, and that’s good for business. But I’m really wary about the affect it will have on the residential population north and south, east and west of the airport.”
Albano suggested the board form a working group to study the expansion and impacts.
In other economic development news, Ken Black reported that second quarter tax revenue was down sharply, 27% below last year. “Hopefully this isn’t representative of what we’re going to see for the rest of the year,” he said.
“Well, there was an abrupt and early end to the ski season,” said Capitani.