<img height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=915327909015523&amp;ev=PageView&amp;noscript=1" target="_blank"> Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Limits on flying hours and testing for lead are some permit conditions hashed out with airport and Great Barrington board

Great Barrington airport mechanic

Nick Bloomstein works on the engine of a Piper Warrior II inside of the maintenance hangar at Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington in 2020. As part of special permit conditions, the Select Board wants assurances that hazardous materials in the hangar and the underground fuel tank are closely monitored. 

GREAT BARRINGTON — How much control the town will have over the airport should it grant a special permit depends on which lawyer weighs in.

But the town’s lawyer appears confident that officials can enforce a number of specific conditions that Walter J. Koladza Airport must heed.

The Select Board set those conditions Monday night at its continued permit hearing. Though the board hasn’t yet approved the airport’s requested zoning-permit change, it hashed through tentative conditions like water and soil testing for lead, given that a number of planes still use leaded aviation fuel. It also shaved back start and end times for takeoffs and landings to curb noise for those neighbors who say they struggle with it.

The board further sought assurances about the integrity of the airport’s underground fuel-storage tank and its leak-prevention and alarm system.

Seeking specifics on steps to prevent leaks and to ensure proper record-keeping, the board wants accountability about the tank and about the safe use and storage of any hazardous materials, given the airport’s past violations.

The Select Board is still looking at the details surrounding the zoning change, and again continued its hearing to April 3 both in person and on Zoom.

The airport is seeking the permit for legal zoning status as an industrial business operating in an area that in 1932 was dedicated to farms and houses. But Koladza has been an airfield since at least 1931. For that reason it has been allowed to operate there as a “preexisting” entity.

But some neighbors and other residents say it is too busy, especially for an unpermitted business, and want its operations sharply pared back. They are fighting the town on this point in state Land Court, and so the airport’s owners sought a permit to protect its current use.

On Monday the board drilled into some details and edited a list of conditions suggested by the airport, and by which it would abide should the permit is granted.

But the question of town oversight is tangled up with state and federal aviation agencies, since those regulate anything at airports related to flights and safety. The town to some extent has authority over what happens on the ground, said David Doneski, town attorney. But what is unclear is just how much power the town has, which exasperated board member Ed Abrahams.

“These aren’t really conditions that we can impose,” Abrahams said. “We can’t even impose ours on the flight school once they’re in the air.”

Airport hearing Great Barrington

At the continued special permit hearing for the Walter J. Koladza airport in Great Barrington, airport Manager Joseph Solan, at podium, left, and airport attorney Dennis Egan go over their proposed conditions with the Select Board. 

The lawyering on all sides has sown confusion, board Chair Stephen Bannon said.

Sign-up for The Berkshire Eagle's free newsletters

Dennis Egan, the airport’s lawyer, said if the airport were to violate the conditions, a court could intervene. And any type of change to the property would require a special permit, he said.

“We would have to come before the board again,” Egan said, “for anything beyond what-you-see-is-what-you-get.”

But the attorney for the neighbors, Tad Heuer, said in a letter to the board that there is a long list of possibilities, including a “drone delivery port,” should a new owner come into the picture and decide not to heed the conditions. All the letters and documents filed with the board can be found at this link.

Doneski said the board should impose the conditions despite the lack of complete legal clarity, and be as specific as possible. He also said the board should not rely on the power to revoke a permit because “the law is not clear on that.” Better to enforce conditions, he said.

The fuel tank

The security of the 20,000-gallon double-walled tank installed in 2018 and the handling of other hazardous materials that frequently are in the mechanics shop are of particular interest to the board given a slew of state documents filed by Heuer, the lawyer for the airport’s opponents.

Those include eight notices of noncompliance by the state Department of Environmental Protection ranging from 2010 to 2022. All are violations of measures either to prevent leaks in the aviation fuel storage tank or for not submitting a list of hazardous materials. In June 2022, an independent inspector cited the airport for cracks in the tank’s spill bucket. Those buckets are there to catch drips or spills during fuel deliveries.

Airport Manager Joseph Solan said that as a condition of the permit the airport would routinely give the town its records confirming safe waste disposal that he also has to submit to the state.

The airport sits in a water-protection district because it is over one of the area’s high-yield drinking-water aquifers, and services a number of planes that can only use leaded fuel. Soil and water testing in 2017 showed lead amounts well below action levels.

Egan, the airport’s attorney, said that the days of noncompliance are history, however, and that Solan and the other employees are trained in proper reporting and handling. He said that even the old, 56,000-gallon, single-walled fuel storage tank never sprang a leak.

The DEP’s list of hazardous leaks and spills in town since 1987 supports Egan’s claim.

The airport is not on the list. Since that year, there have been 146 such releases from a range of businesses that include gas stations, apartment buildings, a Housatonic salvage yard, homes, as well as the the still-leaching Ried Cleaners site on Main Street. Not far from the airport on Route 71, the side-saddle tank on a tractor-trailer in 2019 sprang a leak after it was punctured by an object in the road.

Board Vice Chair Leigh Davis asked that the airport’s fuel tank’s security alarm, which right now is only audible, be linked to also reach cellphones of airport staff. And board member Eric Gabriel asked for the tank’s specifications from company, Containment Solutions Inc. Those can also be found on the company’s website.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or 413-329-6871.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.