Deal in the works to solve complex Pittsfield Airport beacon dispute
LENOX — A solution is emerging for the complex dispute involving the town, Mass Audubon, a Richmond landowner and the Pittsfield Airport Commission over Scenic Mountain Act violations on the Lenox Mountain ridgeline.
A recent Conservation Commission meeting sought to resolve the controversy following work done along the access trail to the Yokun Seat hilltop site of an airport warning beacon that the Federal Aviation Administration had ordered reinstalled and illuminated to avoid safety hazards for pilots.
After animated discussion involving commission members and stakeholders, the airport's engineer agreed to pursue a cleanup of downed trees on property owned by Joseph Cardillo of Swamp Road in Richmond. The damage occurred last summer when contractors cleared the way for vehicles and equipment needed to service the beacon.
Randy Christiansen, senior environmental scientist for Stantec Consulting Services hired by the Airport Commission, also committed to fast-tracking a restoration plan with Mass Audubon for its disturbed property near the now-reactivated beacon. That work would begin next June.
Following recent stabilization efforts near the high-elevation safety beacon, Christiansen told commissioners that he's not seeing any erosion.
"I won't say that will continue forever," he cautioned.
At previous commission meetings, Cardillo had been identified as an apparent obstacle to restoration efforts since the airport's 20-foot wide right-of-way to the beacon — crosses his driveway off Swamp Road and follows a trail adjoining his property.
Christiansen stressed that the Airport Commission is "actively involved on a weekly basis" with Pittsfield City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan to clarify the easement's "very loose and very broad" language.
Representing Cardillo, Pittsfield attorney William E. Martin asserted that "Joe has not in any way attempted to be an obstructionist. He understood that a fairly substantial road needed to be built during the [beacon] construction, and afterward it would be cleaned out and essentially go back into essentially a walking path and in an emergency, if the fire department or airport needed to get up there, they'd have a reasonable-needs access."
Acknowledging what he termed an unjustified "huge controversy," Martin conceded that above Cardillo's property, where Mass Audubon is the main landowner, "a lot of trees have been cut down and it needs to be restored in some fashion."
"There really isn't any controversy," he said. "You can have access, just tell us what the heck you're going to do, why you need to it and we'll be happy to cooperate, It's as simple as that. But you can't just go running up and down the property without sharing a certain level of simple information. I don't think that's an unreasonable request."
As Martin explained Cardillo's position, "he certainly said, 'Go ahead, get the beacon lit because that's an emergency situation,' " followed by some restoration during the winter "but not necessarily go through a big project in the spring and the summer if it can be avoided."
"There's a tower at the top of the mountain, it's going to have to be maintained," Martin said, "so allow a path to be used in a reasonable and appropriate manner."
But, the attorney insisted, "it doesn't seem to be necessary or reasonable to require this huge project which would result in an awful lot of traffic down at the Cardillo property. ... We really want to have some understanding of what the long-term plan is going to be."
When Christiansen was asked by commission member Timothy Flanagan whether Martin's position is consistent with his understanding of the dispute, the airport's consulting engineer paused, then stated: "It's a lot to digest. It's difficult to answer because we don't have a restoration plan yet."
Priorities outlined by Martin include the repair of Cardillo's driveway, "which was torn up in the process" and to ensure an above-ground electrical conduit along the access trail needed to power the beacon light presents no hazards.
"It seems to be complete overkill ... for the airport to have access to the end of the Cardillo property and then if someone needs to get up there, they'd have to again rebuild some sort of road," said Martin.
"Mr. Martin put it pretty aptly; there's a lot of cooks in the kitchen," Christiansen said, referring to competing, at times conflicting, priorities voiced by Cardillo and Mass Audubon, which suffered environmental damage to 1.3 acres of Pleasant Valley Sanctuary land near the summit.
"I sometimes feel like I'm no closer than I was three meetings ago," Christiansen said, though a site visit with the conservation group's leaders "gave me very clear direction on what they want."
Becky Cushing, Berkshire Sanctuaries director for Mass Audubon, emphasized "ongoing maintenance of the beacon as one of the highest priorities in the conversation with Stantec and Pittsfield Airport."
She advocated a written description of airport requirements "so we can design a restoration plan around that need of the airport for access. Mass Audubon is certainly not trying to block any need there, especially regarding safety and emergency issues."
As for Audubon's disturbed property, Cushing said that "our ultimate goal would be allow the area to restore to old-growth forest."
"But what we see is that nothing's getting done," Conservation Commission Chairman Neal Carpenter responded.
Martin complained that "it's frustrating to be in this sort of never-never land. You don't know whether there's a big violation up there or a little problem and all of a sudden, you're sort of at the center of it."
"We seem to be going in circles here," commission member Vince Ammendola said. "The key to this thing right now is determination by the airport of what-the-devil they need for access. ... That's the problem right now, somebody's got to kick-start somewhere here, otherwise we'll be doing the same thing next spring."
Then, after the airport's requirements are clarified, he suggested, a plan for the Audubon land can be completed while work begins as soon as possible on the Cardillo property.
"With that direction, I can clearly see a quick and easy path," Christiansen said. "Happy to do it."
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