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Great Barrington's Planning Board supports giving Koladza airport a special permit

A day in the life of Great Barrington's airport, as storm cloud looms

A woman takes a flying lesson at Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington. The airport is now seeking a special permit to bring it into conformity with zoning laws that were enacted after the airfield started operating. The Select Board will make the final decision.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Planning Board officials support a bid by the Walter J. Koladza Airport to secure a permit that would allow it to continue operating in an area zoned for homes and farms.

But that’s not the last word. The board voted unanimously last week to send a positive recommendation to the Select Board for Berkshire Aviation Enterprises, Inc.’s special permit. The Select Board is considering holding a public hearing Feb. 27.

If the Select Board approves the permit, the airport would then conform to zoning regulations enacted in 1932 — some years after its use as an airfield began.

The recommendation comes amid an ongoing legal battle in state Land Court and an attempt by one abutter and a couple who lives near the airport to reduce its operations to a level that would essentially shut it down. These and other neighbors complain of noise and have safety concerns.

Two “Save the Airport” petitions are still circulating. The online petition has surpassed 5,000 signatures.

A number of supporters spoke in favor of the airport at the Planning Board’s meeting Thursday. Some cited its frequent use as a medical evacuation landing area for helicopters, as well as its role in training commercial pilots who graduate from its flight school.

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But there are concerns. Board member Pedro Pachano asked the airport’s owner, Richard Solan, and his attorney, Dennis Egan, to address some “allegations” raised in the community.

This includes worries of contamination with leaded aviation fuel that most piston-engine aircraft still use while the Federal Aviation Administration works to approve an unleaded gas. The airport is one of the few that sells unleaded gas, but not all planes can use it.

No one has offered any evidence of contamination, Egan said.

Egan also sought to refute the rumor that the airport will eventually expand to allow jets if given the permit. “You can’t,” Egan said. “The runway will not accommodate it.”

Solan, the owner and a retired jet pilot for American Airlines, said jets cannot get in and out of the airport. To allay fears, there will be a stipulation on the permit that prohibits them, he said.

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

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