Airport co-owner surprises everyone: ‘I don’t want a special permit’

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By Tuesday, May 16 News  8 Comments
Terry Cowgill
Great Barrington Airport partner Jim Jacobs tells the Select Board, "I don't want a special permit." At right are airport attorney Lori Robbins and engineer Ralph Stanton.

Great Barrington — It was a public hearing like no other that this writer has covered during 20 years as a journalist.

Amid plans for expansion, officials from the Great Barrington Airport had approached the Selectboard about obtaining a special permit to codify, as far as the town’s zoning regulations are concerned, the airport’s legality. The public hearing had been continued twice, most recently to last night (May 15).

Monday’s hearing looked as if it would be a barnburner, with neighboring property owners ready to oppose the airport’s proposed addition of three new hangars, and another nearby property owner, armed with his lawyer, poised to suggest the airport was responsible for elevated levels of lead in his drinking water.

Airport engineer Ralph Stanton explains the project to Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton and Selectman Dan Bailly. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Airport engineer Ralph Stanton explains the project to Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, Selectboard Chairman Sean Stanton and Selectboard member Dan Bailly. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Once the hearing convened, the airport’s attorney, Lori Robbins, and its engineer, Ralph Stanton, made presentations to the Selectboard and then poof: one of the airport’s owners went to the podium and announced, “I don’t want a special permit.” To which the airport’s manager Ken Krentza replied, while glaring at his boss, “We need to talk about that.”

And so the hearing was continued — again — until June 12. It was that kind of night.

Neighboring property owner Marc Fasteau had sent an email to the news media in advance of the hearing. In that message, Fasteau attached a revised list of conditions he wanted board members to consider if they chose to grant the special permit.

In addition, Fasteau said he had the water tested in the house he shares at 77 Seekonk Cross Road with his wife Anne Fredericks and found “actionable” levels of lead, as defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We do not have direct evidence that the lead is from the airport, however, the town in 2004 stated that the airport was ‘the greatest threat to our drinking water’,” Fasteau said in his email.

Seats in theSelectboard's meeting room in ttown Hall were filled with those waiting to speak and to witness the proceedings. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Seats in theSelectboard’s meeting room in ttown Hall were filled with those waiting to speak and to witness the proceedings. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Fasteau’s attorney Richard Dohoney was also present, as were about 30 other interested parties who appeared prepared to speak out. But it was not to be, after airport partner Jim Jacobs’ frustration boiled over and he stole their thunder.

Jacobs told the board, “I feel that we have suffered a lot of abuse … we as an airport do not make any money. We have always put the community first. I sit around the table with my guys and they feel beaten down by this permit.”

“If we can’t get hangars, we can’t get them,” Jacobs continued. In that case, Jacobs added, “We go on the way we are.”

Select Board Chairman Sean Stanton appeared surprised at Jacobs’ comments. He urged him to “talk to the rest of your ownership and your lawyer.”

At the previous hearing in March, Fasteau and Fredericks, through his attorney, had presented a list of proposed conditions they would like to see attached to any special permit.

Among those conditions is that the runways not be lengthened (the owners have said this is impossible anyway, given the constraints of the property). Dohoney also listed limits on retail activities, including at the flight school and the aircraft repair business, limits on the number of aircraft housed at the airport (50), and restrictions on military helicopter activity (airport officials have said they have no control over this).

In his latest list of conditions, Fasteau suggested “termination of the special permit when the current owners no longer hold a 60+ percent ownership interest.”

Fasteau also insisted in his statement that the airport has done “nothing to remove their two or three buried lead gas tanks which were supposed to be removed by 2017 … and have continued to sell leaded gas on the premises (not allowed in the R-4 zone).”

Fasteau added that the more than 40 planes parked on their property are “in a location where the soils are primarily fast draining gravel” with “no protections against oil and fuel leaks,” even as “the public gas pump is unlocked and unmanned.”

And Fasteau sounded an alarm about the aquifer near the airport which sits near a public water supply.

“Children may now be drinking lead contaminated water. The health and safety of our citizens require a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment and a halt to further development at the airport pending the result of the Assessment.”

Airport officials left the selectmen’s meeting room after the hearing was continued. In a follow-up interview, Krentza said, “The next step is to continue to pursue this special permit and continue as we have for construction of the proposed hangars.”

Airport attorney Lori Robbins presents materials to the Selectboard. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Airport attorney Lori Robbins presents materials to the Selectboard members Sean Stanton, Dan Bailly and Ed Abrahams. Photo: Terry Cowgill

As for Fasteau’s suggestion that the airport was responsible for the lead levels in his house, Krentza said, “He has given no evidence that supports his theory for his lead levels. He lives about three quarters of a mile away from the airport. Why imply that the airport has anything to do with it?”

The airport was built before the town established its first zoning code in 1931. It is, therefore, a pre-existing nonconforming use and the site lies in an aquifer protection zone next to the Green River. Any expansion requires a special permit from the selectboard.

However, the zoning bylaws also require that an aviation field in a R-4 residential zone obtain a special permit, which the airport never was compelled to apply for because of its grandfathered status.

But the airport took the unusual step of voluntarily applying — after the fact — for the special permit, which includes the proposal to add the new hangars, “In order to quell any concerns about the legal status of use of the property as an airport,” Robbins explained at the first hearing.

At one point Monday night, Claudia Shapiro, an unruly abutter who has sued the airport and the town multiple times and claims she actually owns part of the airport’s property, asked Stanton, “Can I say something, Sean, please?”

“No!” Stanton replied to much applause and laughter.


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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Jim Johnston says:

    Maybe we can force the airport to close. This town is going down The tubes. How pathetic. You can’t tell me one of these NIMBY idiots bought their house before 1931. So pathetic.

    1. Ritch says:

      Hallelujah, Jim. Just shut’er all down. Maybe build a wall of kale around the Berkshires just to be certain no new businesses get in.. oops, these guys are already IN! Since 1931?
      One of my fondest memories of GB was flying into this airport for the closing on my Berkshire home 20 years ago. (Out of necessity, not fancy like it sounds). I was visiting family in western PA and there was no viable public transportation to get from point A to point B, so I had to “take a flight lesson”, and commission a guy in a two-seater prop on a one-way to my future. I will never forget the feeling of coming over those low, worn, tree-covered mountains and gliding into this little airstrip amongst the endless green before signing my life away at Berkshire Bank, just a couple of miles away.
      Although I haven’t flown out of here since, I do think the community needs to view this property as a public amenity and treat it as such. In lieu of any other real public transportation, having at least some form of local access (and egress) from the skies should be embraced and encouraged, not shackled and taunted like a circus bear. Help them clean up the lead tanks, if this is a real concern. Help them grow in a way that works for everyone. Help them survive. Give these guys a break and fly the friendly skies again!

      1. Will Ryan says:

        Well said, Ritch. I agree.

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    The anti business GB continues it’s terror.

  3. Karen Smith says:

    To both gentlemen above:
    Thank you for your cogent,non alarmist, and welcome comments. Enough with the fingers out and BLAME game for everything… some people make whining a graduate degree in entitlement. Help don’t hinder this local landmark.

  4. John says:

    It is clear that the biggest complainers of the airport simply want to shutter it for their own personal benefit.
    Mr Fasteau is in the business of building luxury hotels and it is obvious he wants to build one of his massive hotels on the airport.
    Shame on you Me Fasteau, shame on you.

  5. John says:

    To add: Mr Fastuau’s assertion that the elevated lead leavels in his house are associated with the airport.

    Being in the construction business, he knows that a lead hazard risk assessment is the means to indentify the sources of lead. There are folks who specialize in this task. He states the elevated lead levels IN his house. Normally the source is from friction surfaces from old windows and doors moving. What is the basis for knowing you have elevated lead levels in your house Mr Fasteau? Did you have a risk assessment done but choose to not share the results, but attack your very distant neighbor instead?

    What will be your next tactic in an attempt to shutter the airport, so you can build your luxury hotel complex?

  6. Jim Johnston says:

    At the rate GB is going, we might as well start planning for its demise. The NIMBY’s have and will continue to drive away any real growth or business from this town unless it fits their agenda. Young people are either fleeing or dying at an alarming rate from our town because they lack OPPORTUNITY. By blocking, or at the least putting massive restrictions on, every single business that attempts to come to this town or better its standing in the town, we are collectively shooting ourselves in the foot. We NIMBY fast food restaurants, “big box” stores, and the like. Well guess what? Beside providing valuable goods and services to our town, they also provide JOBS. The kids growing up in this area seem to have 2 options. 1) Flee 2) Hope like hell they can find a job in the dismal job market in and around GB that lacks any real entry level type jobs (we have 1 fast food restaurant because we have made it so unattractive for anyone else to even attempt to open another in our town. How many 1st/high school jobs could this provide).

    We don’t make any attempt to grow our economy while at the same time providing jobs for younger generations, and we wonder why we have a massive segment of our 15-25 year-olds addicted to opioids. Such a sad state of affairs you people have created in this area. The rest of plebs are forced to just sit here and watch it burn.

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