With new point person for Koladza Airport hangars plan, Great Barrington residents make their worries heard

Engineer James Scalise of SKH Design Group speaks to neighbors of the Walter J. Koladza Airport on Tuesday. Scalise says he will drill down into their concerns about a plan to build six new hangars on the property.

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GREAT BARRINGTON — While some of the airport's neighbors are even more alarmed by a new plan to build six hangars on the property, they have a fresh new listener to hear their concerns and drill deep down into them.

"As an engineer and a professional, I can advocate — better than most, I think," said James Scalise of SKH Design Group Inc., who was hired by the owners of the Walter J. Koladza Airport to be the frontman for another pitch for a special permit. "I know there's a lot of history."

Scalise had pulled a meeting of abutters together at the Fairfield Inn on Tuesday night as an introduction to the new proposal to build six, rather than three, new hangars to house airplanes that must now be tied to the ground.

The hangars would hold a total of 54 planes, and would only be used for their storage and some equipment, but won't be used for maintenance or anything else, Scalise said. Each would have six parking spaces outside.

And one by one he registered abutters' concerns ranging from pollution to traffic to lighting. He even tried to address some nonengineering concerns — what neighbor Marc Fasteau said was a host of "big irritants" — including various aviation complaints that have played into opposition to any construction there over the last three years.

"I know this isn't the hangars, but if you want to know what's going on in the neighborhood, it's a package," Fasteau said.

It is that package that wore down airport officials in 2017 in their quest for a special permit to build three new hangars. They eventually withdrew their application after neighboring residents pitched a battle over a host of issues that they said had been beleaguering their residential/agricultural area. These included low-flying planes, fears of lead pollution from leaded aviation fuel, and the sense that oversight was lacking by both the town and state for a parcel that sits over the aquifer that feeds the town's water supply — currently its only source.

In response, the airport became the second in the state to also carry an unleaded aviation gas, since the Federal Aviation Administration is working to drive lead out of the industry.

Part of the issue is that the airport was built in what is now a residential neighborhood before there were zoning laws. Despite its noncomformity to the town code, it's still allowed to build on the property.

Scalise says he wants to take each worry — within reason — and analyze it. But a bitterness remains.

"There has been high feeling, anger and mistrust," said neighbor Holly Hamer, who, upon seeing on Scalise's rendering that her home sits directly opposite the driveway for the new hangars, said, "You just radicalized me."

Scalise said he could try to move the driveway entrance. But Hamer said she didn't understand why after the extended dust-up that ended in 2017, there was no attempt to address issues with neighbors before this rejiggered plan was brought forth.

"With six hangars it's a showdown," she said.

Neighbor Anne Fredericks said that not only does she worry who will protect the aquifer, she is unhappy with the current process.

"You didn't make this a public meeting," she said, pointing out that only four direct abutters received notices. "If you were really concerned, there are a lot of people in the neighborhood."

Scalise said he would do better next time. He said the goal is for neighbors and the airport to hash it all out until the come to an agreement. But he also said that some of the concerns about pollution finding a pathway into the water supply might be overstated.

"We are extremely regulated," he said, adding that he will make sure the airport adheres to good "housekeeping."

Marsha Stamell wants to build trust.

"We need honesty and clarity and real answers about traffic," she said.

But for Fredericks, who spoke passionately, it's all about the water.

"We can't get another aquifer," she said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshrieeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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