FAA spending over $1 million to reactivate dormant beacons near Pittsfield airport

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The Federal Aviation Administration has confirmed that it is spending more than $1 million to reactivate three dormant warning beacons on mountaintops surrounding Pittsfield Municipal Airport.

Work on illuminating the already-erected safety beacon tower atop Yokun Seat on the Lenox Mountain ridge line is days away from completion, according to Acting Airport Manager Brian Spencer.

But the other two sites — South Mountain in Pittsfield and Shaker Mountain in Hancock, just over the city line northwest of the airport — are not due to go back online with lit beacons until mid-2016, said Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation in Boston. MassDOT's Aeronautics Division oversees and inspects the Pittsfield airport for the FAA.

Meanwhile, pilots using the Pittsfield airport recently received an official warning about the unlit, 80-foot-high beacon "obstruction" installed on Yokun Seat three months ago, according to FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac in Washington, D.C.

She also confirmed that for the airport to comply with regulations, the federal agency requires illuminated, flashing beacons because nearby mountains are in the flight pattern for takeoffs and landings.

The safety precautions are mandatory for an airport that has received federal funding through the FAA's Airport Improvement Program, as Pittsfield did for its $22 million upgrade and expansion completed in 2013. The FAA contributed $6 million to the three-year airport project.

Details of the agency's safety project were disclosed late Thursday by the state.

"MassDOT is aware of this issue," Verseckes informed The Eagle by e-mail.

The FAA is funding replacement of the three safety beacons through a $1,240,000 grant, he said. The total includes a $62,000 contribution by MassDOT and $62,000 from the airport.

The project, first approved in October 2014, includes the rehabilitation or replacement of three beacons, including new light fixtures, light-mounting poles, underground buried electrical service and overhead pole-mounted electrical-power service lines.

According to Verseckes, the Yokun Seat installation required tree-clearing along the 20-foot wide airport-owned easements along the power lines "and a 25-foot radius easement around the beacon pole location.

At Bousquet Mountain, a previous beacon location, tree trimming and topping of trees will be required to ensure a clear line of sight by pilots to an existing lighted commercial cellular tower that adequately lights the hill, he said, thus eliminating the need to replace the original beacon and pole at Bousquet.

At all three beacon sites targeted for replacement, Verseckes noted, the poles have been installed but the location in deep woods, at some distance from public roads, has delayed the connection of new power cables for illumination. According to the FAA and MassDOT project timetable, the entire project is set to be completed on June 30 of next year.

The Yokun Seat tower replacement on Lenox Mountain, approved by the Lenox Conservation Commission to be confined to the airport's 20-foot wide easement from Swamp Road in Richmond to the summit, went farther afield, causing environmental damage to 1.3 acres of Mass Audubon's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary and leaving a scar on the ridge line.

Mass Audubon is demanding a thorough stabilization and restoration of the disturbed land, which includes an adjacent half-acre in Richmond. The commission will meet at 8 p.m. Thursday in Lenox Town Hall for an update from the Pittsfield Airport Commission's contractor, Stantec Consulting, on plans to undo the damage. The subcontractor responsible for the work is KOBO Utility Construction Corp. based in Sandwich on Cape Cod.

Stantec's environmental scientist, Randy Christiansen, reached at the Yokun Seat work site Friday afternoon, declined comment and referred questions to the Pittsfield Airport Commission. Christiansen said he had been displeased by news coverage of the project.

Kevin O'Neil, owner of KOBO, was also at the site but could not be reached to explain the status of the project.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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