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Decades ago, the North Adams airport paid $1 for the right to control the sky over their land in Williamstown. Residents want more

Standing in the middle of Luce Road

Eight residents living in the direct flight path of the airport runway on Luce Road in Williamstown are seeking to revoke easements that allowed the Harriman-and-West Airport to control air space over their properties. 

WILLIAMSTOWN — In the 1960s, officials filed easements that allowed the Harriman-and-West Airport to control air space over properties on nearby Luce Road.

Now, landowners aim to revoke that permission.

Eight Williamstown residents notified the city and its Airport Commission this month that they believe the easements were not legal and they plan to take them back until they are renegotiated. Their March 7 letter was addressed to the North Adams Airport Commission, the Williamstown Select Board, North Adams Mayor Jennifer Macksey, and a regional Federal Aviation Administration official.

AirHarriman2 (copy) (copy)

A plane takes off from Harriman-and-West Airport in North Adams. A group of Williamstown residents say they plan to revoke easements the commission took in the 1960s allowing the airport to control nearby air space. The property owners want those easements renegotiated.

The residents said they plan “to extinguish” the easements. “It is equivalent to revoking the easement for cause,” Luce Road resident David Leja told The Eagle in an email.

The group wants “fair and equitable compensation,” the letter reads. The easements were taken for $1, according to a document filed in the Northern Berkshire Registry of Deeds.

“Not doing any research you should be able to tell there’s something fishy,” said Gerrit Blauvelt, one of the residents.

Macksey declined to comment and said her team is discussing the request. Katherine Eade, airport manager, said the letter is under review. An FAA spokesperson said the agency received the letter and will respond directly to it.

Dan Caplinger, chair of the Airport Commission, said legal issues are being reviewed. “I anticipate that the Airport Commission will deliberate once it has more information from the city solicitor.”

Caplinger did not respond to questions about how the airport uses or plans to use the easements in question.

A small jet flies overhead

A small jet flies over Luce Road in Williamstown after taking off from Harriman and West Airport in North Adams on Wednesday, March 23, 2022. 

Conflict between the airport and the nearby residents is not new.

In 2003, residents on Luce Road in Williamstown with easements denied contractors access to their land when the Airport Commission moved to cut down trees on the properties. The city filed a lawsuit. Residents agreed to have their trees cut down and the city dropped its legal action, according to reporting at the time in The Transcript and The Eagle.

Reason for easements

In 1964, the Airport Commission recorded easements for properties on Luce Road in Williamstown that border the airport “for the unobstructed and unrestricted flight of aircraft in, through, and across the airspace over and above” the parcels of land. The city and its Airport Commission takes the “perpetual right” to enter the land and remove objects like trees, the document says.

They were taken for a dollar, records show. Current Luce Road residents argue that was illegal, noting that the attorney general at the time, Edward William Brooke III, said a year earlier that taking easements for a “nominal payment” was against the law.

In December 1963, Brooke notified several state agencies that they engaged in illegal practices when taking land. One of those illegal practices: “The practice of making token payments only (usually a dollar) when the land is taken irrespective of the actual value of the property,” a 1963 press release from Brooke reads.

A few years prior to the Williamstown easements on Luce Road, the Airport Commission took similar easements, also for a dollar, on North Adams properties, according to Registry of Deeds records. Luce Road residents claim in their letter those were later renegotiated — while the easements in Williamstown were not.

Looking at land records, it’s not immediately clear. On the same cross streets as the 1959 North Adams easements, there are a number of airport easements recorded in the late ‘90s and early 2000s with the registry of deeds for values ranging from $14,000 to $21,000.

It’s difficult to confirm they are the same properties, however, because the 1959 easements did not include street addresses. It’s not immediately clear if the later easements are renegotiations of the 1959 easements, as Luce Road residents claim.

Blauvelt, a resident on Luce Road since 2015, started researching the easements and looking at old Airport Commission meeting minutes. He found that some minutes were missing and filed an Open Meeting Law complaint. The state Attorney General’s office found the commission violated the law by not keeping or maintaining minutes for a roughly three-decade period.

Since then, the commission has found some minutes and, as the Attorney General’s Office ordered, recreated other missing sets.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6272.


Greta Jochem, a Report for America Corps member, joined the Eagle in 2021. Previously, she was a reporter at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. She is also a member of the investigations team.

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