As airport continues permit quest, threat from lead in plane fuel causes concern

More Info
By Tuesday, Feb 28 News  22 Comments
Heather Bellow
The self-serve fueling station at Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington has residents worried about pollution to the aquifer and Green River that runs along the property. The airport sells leaded aviation fuel, something the FAA and EPA are trying to phase out. Pollution is just one of many worries abutters and the airport's neighbors have about plans to improve or expand the airport into the future.

Great Barrington — There was a new twist last night in Berkshire Aviation’s continued quest for a special permit for Walter J. Koladza Airport: concern over the use and sale of leaded aviation fuel.

Airport neighbor James Webber brings up the issue of leaded avgas. Photo: Heather Bellow

Airport neighbor James Webber brings up the issue of leaded avgas. Photo: Heather Bellow

It was the third evening that airport neighbors, abutters and pilots packed the meeting room and lined up to speak to the Selectboard about a proposal to build three new hangars to store aircraft that are now tied down outside and the possibility of other future changes made possible if the board grants this special permit to bring the airport into zoning compliance.

Most of the issues raised so far – and again last night – have touched on noise, hovering military helicopters that rattle houses and their inhabitants, property devaluation from future airport expansion, obstructed views from the new hangars, and the threat to the aquifer that feeds the town’s water supply and nearby wells.

But on this evening, neighbor James Webber brought up something else: the sale and use of avgas (aviation gasoline) at Koladza, something he noted is now only used by small aircraft and banned from all other forms of transportation.

The 50 planes now at the airport are tied down. One of the property’s open hangars is in the background. Airplane owners say indoor hangars would help with aircraft maintenance and safety issues. Photo: Heather Bellow

The 50 planes now at the airport are tied down. One of the property’s open hangars is in the background. Airplane owners say indoor hangars would help with aircraft maintenance and safety issues. Photo: Heather Bellow

Webber said leaded avgas creates “clouds of lead” and said he is worried about airborne lead contaminating the aquifer.

Even the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t like it and says this on its website:

“Lead in avgas prevents damaging engine knock, or detonation, that can result in a sudden engine failure. Lead is a toxic substance that can be inhaled or absorbed in the bloodstream, and the FAA and EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and industry are partnering to remove it from avgas. Avgas emissions have become the largest contributor to the relatively low levels of lead emissions produced in this country.”

Among other research, the EPA’s findings indicate that where there are small, piston-engine aircraft operating, there is an increase in lead concentrations in air.

That might lead to concentrations in the human bloodstream, as a 2011 Duke University study found: “…kids living within 500 meters of an airport where leaded avgas is used have higher blood lead levels than other children, with elevated lead levels in blood found in kids as far as one kilometer away. The EPA estimates that 16 million Americans live close to one of 22,000 airports where leaded avgas is routinely used — and three million children go to schools near these airports.”

Koladza general manager Ken Krentza says he’s willing to move the proposed location for the hangars. Standing in the doorway is attorney Richard Dohoney. Photo: Heather Bellow

Koladza general manager Ken Krentza says he’s willing to move the proposed location for the hangars. Standing in the doorway is attorney Richard Dohoney. Photo: Heather Bellow

Friends of the Earth (FoE) sued the EPA seven years ago for not regulating leaded avgas. The FAA says it, along with the EPA, is working to stop the use of lead in the fuel, and backing research to come up with alternatives.

But according to this Scientific American article, unleaded avgas is already available and the Aviation Fuel Club is encouraging small airports to use it.

Indeed, both Swift Fuels and Shell are part of the FAA’s initiative to get the lead out, but Swift developed something already in use. Swift is an 11-person shop in Indiana that has an unleaded blend, UL 94, already in use at 20 airports around the country and has just signed its first deal in Massachusetts with the Falmouth Airpark.

Swift CEO Chris D’Acosta says his company’s “ultimate aim is to completely replace [leaded] fuel.” Swift invented the UL 94 blend for interim use until the FAA’s five-year testing and research program ends in 2018. Swift is the only company in the country that makes and distributes this blend.

“We want to get pilots and communities and airport boards and distributors talking about it,” he added. “Lead has been around for a long time, but lead also brings a lot of corrosion and acidity.”

And D’Acosta said Swift will help airports in all sorts of ways to make it possible to use their fuel. He said UL 94 is priced competitively with leaded avgas at wholesale, but final pricing is “a function of the supply chain.”

The Selectboard Monday (Feb. 27), from left: town manager Jennifer Tabakin, chair Sean Stanton, vice chair Steve Bannon, Dan Bailly, Ed Abrahams, Bill Cooke and town planner Chris Rembold. Photo: Heather Bellow

The Selectboard Monday (Feb. 27), from left: town manager Jennifer Tabakin, chair Sean Stanton, vice chair Steve Bannon, Dan Bailly, Ed Abrahams, Bill Cooke and town planner Chris Rembold. Photo: Heather Bellow

But this was the first time the leaded gas issue was raised. Most of the airport abutters and neighbors in this more agricultural part of town said they did not take issue with the airport as it now stands but are worried about extra noise from any increases in air traffic that might make this popular country airport a busier hive of activity.

The special permit hearing has been continued twice already and was again last night to Monday, March 27, as there are too many questions and thoughts by residents and board members that still need to be run to the ground.

Built in 1931 before the town’s zoning regulations were drafted, the Koladza Airport is surrounded by farm fields and homes and a few home-based industrial businesses. So to continue officially operating as an airport in this residential/agricultural zone, Berkshire Aviation needs a special permit that will allow it to add new buildings and make other changes to its property. The airport sees about 100 takeoffs and around 115 landings per day.

Board chair Sean Stanton had to remind everyone that this hearing was simply for the special permit and limited to the zoning issue, and that the hangars are a matter for the planning board on Thursday, March 9.

Yet once the permit is granted, it gets easier and cheaper for the airport to change things, though, as airport manager and former United Airlines pilot Ken Krentza pointed out. Koladza can’t compete with the Pittsfield airport, which services corporate jets, for instance. He said fears of major growth here are unfounded, particularly given the small, 2,500-foot runway.

The runway is indeed hemmed in by a property line and Green River setback on one side and Seekonk Cross Road on the other.

Selectboard member Ed Abrahams tried to get a sense of the size of the hangars and found that the ceramics department at Bard College of Simon’s Rock is almost exactly the same size in width and length. The height at the rear, however, is closer to that of the proposed hangars. Photo: Heather Bellow

Selectboard member Ed Abrahams tried to get a sense of the size of the hangars and found that the ceramics department at Bard College of Simon’s Rock is almost exactly the same size in width and length. The height at the rear, however, is closer to that of the proposed hangars. Photo: Heather Bellow

Krentza addressed the military’s use of the airport for training exercises with Black Hawk helicopters that has, more than other things, frustrated the neighbors.

He said he had only had a few phone calls from people about military helicopters since he began working here one year ago.

“Ever since I applied for the hangars, the helicopters are all I hear about,” Krentza said, adding that he will “support the military.”

“I will not restrict them from coming,” he said, noting that it was important they know how to get in and out of this “dark” airport, both for local disaster preparation and support of training pilots generally.

Over the past month, a handful of neighbors have said the nighttime Black Hawk flyovers are noisy and frightening. Krentza said this happens about once every two weeks during the day.

World War II pilot and airport neighbor William Weigle said the military presence was a benefit in case of problems like forest fires, and said those Black Hawks do not present a danger.

This Slate article says the crash rate for helicopters is slightly higher than the general aircraft rate. And the Associated Press made this list of some non-combat crashes of the UH 60 Black Hawk.

Flags mark the footprint of the three proposed hangars to the left of the runway. Photo: Heather Bellow

Flags mark the footprint of the three proposed hangars to the north of the runway. Photo: Heather Bellow

Apart from safety, they are noisy. “A Black Hawk hovering overhead is a big deal, especially at 1:30 in the morning,” said neighbor Derek Eshelman. Neighbor James Webber ticked off a few court cases in which airports were successfully sued over aircraft noise.

And attorney Richard Dohoney spoke for clients Marc Fasteau and Anne Fredericks, airport neighbors who support it but do not want the hangars built in that location. He said the zoning ordinance was drafted to “make sure this airport wouldn’t have any adverse effects” on the area. “There’s been no demonstration that this is the best location for these hangars,” he added.

The hangars would be 150 feet by 49 feet with a 16 feet 6 inches height, with six private bays each and a parking lot for 18 cars outside, as well as a new access road. Right now the total footprint of all three hangars is marked by four flags the same height as the proposed buildings.

Some neighbors say that location on a large patch of farmland will spoil the views; Berkshire Aviation says they are critical for financial survival by generating a $450-per-month rental fee. Krentza, however, said he was willing to move their location.

“I am open to adjusting the project we submitted to the board,” he said. “I don’t have to have these tobacco road buildings…we’ll paint them…make them pretty…”


Return Home

22 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Joe says:

    Airport Lead Fuel vs. Steiner School,Kids,Water?? Wake Up Folks!!

  2. Patrick Fennell says:

    The airport went in operation in 1944 and Steiner School started in GB in 1971. So what was the school thinking moving next to an active airport?

  3. John says:

    While i am happy to listen to comments about Avgas, let’s face it. Most of the homes in the area were built before 1978 when lead was banned from paint. Most of the neighbors homes built before 1978. Unless you have had a risk analysis done in your home, your home is likely loaded with lead from years of old windows and doors with friction surfaces, not to mention lead pipe fittings and lead solder and lead paint on china built kids toys.
    The NIMBY’s will say anything to get their way but ignore reality.
    The very basic storage buildings (hangers) should be a no brainer for the town to approve

  4. Alex says:

    Wait isn’t the green river closed several times a year because of E. coli issues?

  5. Frederica S. says:

    If there is an available alternative to leaded fuel, the airport should start using it immediately–not wait until their project is approved. That would not only eliminate a hazard but also show neighborly intent.

    1. John says:

      We would all like that. However a legal and equivalent alternative has not been approved on a large scale basis.
      Frankly, I would be far more concerned with the 10’s of thousands ( if not millions, as I’m sure I lost at least 1000) lead fishing sinkers in the local rivers and all the old lead paint in all the houses from decades past

  6. Carl Stewart says:

    It would be nice if people could focus on the issue at hand, which is the construction of hangars. This is not a referendum on the use of leaded aviation fuel or on turning the little regional airport on Route 71 into a military base. Or even about increased air traffic leading to more noise, pollution, and the like. This application is only about hangars; the time may come when the owners of Koladza (isn’t it nice that our airport memorializes the great Berkshires humanitarian, Emil Koladza?) seek approval for another runway and that will be the proper time for the NIMBY syndrome to again raise its not too appealing head.

    1. Joseph Method says:

      You can say that but the issue is about whatever people want it to be. Right now this is a discussion about the special permit and the implications of what that will allow. So everything passes through that. For myself I think I’m in favor of the hangars. But if the FAA won’t protect us from leaded avgas this is a great opportunity to put a stipulation in the permit that they not use it. Yes, I’m NIMBY about lead in the air and water. Far less so about “viewsheds”.

      1. John says:

        Joe,
        If your house and garage was built before 1978, it is likely loaded with lead, unless EPA/HUD have set forth a remediation plan to abate it.
        Most homes in the Berkshires were built before 1978.

  7. Carl Stewart says:

    Two additional points, one serious, the other not so much.

    1. Why hasn’t anyone mentioned the increased safety of having planes stored indoors in bad weather? Planes shielded from winter weather are less likely to have problems in flight, which lessens the likelihood of having one of them lose control and crash into one of those nearby houses.

    2. I should have explained my mention of Emil Koladza. Although the airport is named after Walter, it was his brother Emil who should be remembered for his tireless humanitarian efforts in the southern Berkshires.

  8. Marcia Stamell says:

    I have trouble understanding the argument that pilots who choose to fly in Massachusetts did not know when they made this choice that New England has weather and now are justified in seeking protection from it. But homeowners who bought houses near a little sleepy country airport don’t deserve any protection from an expansion. Caveat Emptor cuts both ways.

    1. Carl Stewart says:

      By this argument, people who live in New England should not have access to snow tires because in living here they accepted the risks of snowy and icy roads. And, Ms. Stamell, as has been pointed out, this is not a request for an expansion of the airport, but simply to have indoor storage.

      1. John Grogan says:

        Carl, I think you might be being just a bit naive on this. Certainly it is about storage hangars, but it is also about ultimately changing, or trying to update zoning ordinances, which of course the airport also pre-dates.

  9. John says:

    If Simmons Rock can have a similar storage building then there is absolutely no reason why the airport can’t .

    1. Joe says:

      Jon,Simmons rock does not house airplanes as far as i know? This Whole Matter is Zoning Bylaw In The Aquifer, All Commercial Development Increase Or Expansion is Prohibited To Protect The Residents only Drinking Water Supply,That is The One And Only Thing We as Residents Have To Protect Us And The Aquifer. Water Is Life I Believe That Is What Matters Not Hangers For A Select Few To Hang Out In.

      1. John says:

        Joe
        A metal storage building does not create an issue.
        Should a structure create an issue, then all the houses should be torn down and the residents vacate the area.
        There used to be additional storage buildings on other properties adjacent to the airport.

        Once again NIMBY’s looking for any possible route.

      2. james m says:

        I am sure you have absolute confidence and knowledge that your septic system and those of your neighbors are performing at 100%. No seepage, split pipes, uncontaminated leach fields, right?. Additionally, you have that same level of confidence no non-point source pollutants i.e. lawn fertilizers, weed killers, the full suite of home and garden applicants and the additional aggregation of residue from car brake pads, leaky motor oil and other attendant fluids on the road make their way into aquifers or the Green river?

  10. Marcia Stamell says:

    Additionally, it is also questionable business economics to argue that the experienced pilots but inexperienced business people who chose to keep the airport after they inherited it deserve a special waiver of the rules to keep their heads above water. They also knew the risks they were incurring.

  11. William and Linda Owens says:

    The airport has been here before most of us were here. They are a good neighbor we enjoy watching the airplanes in the nice weather. Things never stay the same improvements have to be made to keep it going. I’d rather live near the airport than a housing development or worse.

  12. Joseph Method says:

    I think the hangars make sense and also the airport should be allowed to develop their property, but tie the special permit to forbidding leaded avgas. The fact that it’s not already banned is outrageous.

    1. John says:

      Joe,
      The Feds control all of this already. I would encourage you to work at the federal level to develop, qualify and approve an Avgas solution

      1. Joseph Method says:

        Yeah, I’m not expecting much from the federal level for about 4 years (fingers crossed). We should work at whatever level is effective. And in general local is better. To your point above (can’t reply in place) about lead in the environment, how is that an argument for releasing more when it’s avoidable? My house is old and I go around with lead testing sticks to find surfaces that will have to be sealed over. I’m not going to go around splattering lead paint on everything since it’s already in the house. The reason why we need to be vigilant about lead is precisely because it’s so hard to get rid of once it gets out there.

What's your opinion?

We welcome your comments and appreciate your respect for others. We kindly ask you to keep your comments as civil and focused as possible. If this is your first time leaving a comment on our website we will send you an email confirmation to validate your identity.

Frederick Simmons Sr., 86, of Lee

Tuesday, Oct 17 - Fred enjoyed hunting and fishing in the local area, vegetable gardening, woodworking, spending time with his large extended family and being a great dad.