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Editorials

Resident questions Lancaster Town Board on Lancaster Airport SEQR; Part I
By Lee Chowaniec
Aug 20, 2009, 18:20
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A Safe Aviation Coalition (SAC) supporter addressed the Lancaster Town Board Monday evening regarding the environmental assessment review that had been conducted for the expansion of the Lancaster Airport.

The resident’s name will not be used because of the harassment SAC members are receiving from rogue pilots and others. The individual will be referred to as resident.
The resident declared had been in contact with Tom Felix, the manager of Planning and Programming, regarding the initial environmental assessment; adverse impacts and so on. Mr. Felix informed SAC that Mr. Tom Geles, airport owner came to him as a representative of his group to perform the environmental assessment and that it was given to the FAA. The FAA did not find anything wrong with the assessment. “It was not given a TYPE I review.”

Supervisor Robert Giza interjected the SEQR (State Environmental Quality Review) is the environmental study. “One of the questions is whether there are any endangered species. One of the things may say ‘small-to-moderate’ regarding services from the town; police, fire, etc. But, there are environmental problems out there.”
Resident: “I’m talking about changes that impact the community. I have a copy of the SEQR, the environmental review.”

Supervisor Giza: “We didn’t see where there were any large environmental impacts.”

Resident: “People are asking whether planes are buzzing us and I will tell you that they are. So that letter that went out by Lancaster Airport did nothing to improve the situation.”

The airport letter referred to:

Dear Fellow Aviators,

We at Buffalo Lancaster Regional Airport, in an effort to be good neighbors, kindly request your assistance in avoiding a noise sensitive area ˝ mile to the southwest of the airport. On departing to the west we kindly request that you climb to maximum altitude and maintain clear of the Class C airspace before commencing your left turn to avoid low over flights over our neighbors located below the flight pattern. We have included a graphic of our traffic pattern for your reference.

Buffalo-Lancaster Regional Airport

The resident informed the board that he spoke with FFA Administrator Carl Kohl that afternoon and was told that there is a special investigator that will be reviewing the safety complaints submitted for low flying aircraft. “The letter actually did nothing for us. We think its new pilots because we’re seeing new planes that causing the problem. We have given him the time and dates of the occurrences. If fact, one came over my house just before I came to this meeting.”

Supervisor Giza: “The plane didn’t have to originate from the Lancaster Airport.”

Resident: “It came out of the airport.”

Supervisor Giza: “You sure it came out of the Lancaster Airport? How do you know that?”

Resident: “Because it was in the takeoff mode and climbing.”

Supervisor Giza: “There’s a hollow where you live, a knoll, and there and a lot of trees.”

Resident: “They were in a climb mode and were probably 100 feet above the tree line which is another 75 feet.”

Supervisor Giza: “They could have been coming from Batavia, Akron… I’m not saying they didn’t come from Lancaster, but why would they purposely buzz your house. They know people are watching.”

Resident: “That’s a good question. There are good pilots and you are on the outside looking in. We have been in contact with the FAA. I am not an alarmist. I am up here giving you some of the facts. It’s not just about me and this thing is getting personal now. You’re sitting in your back yard, having some friends over, and planes are taking off one after the other and they are barely going over the trees and they’re coming back and forth.”

Giza: “Get the markings off the plane.”

Resident: “They are small (on the tail) and you would need binoculars. Regardless, the point here concerns the fifty acres of development that’s taking place with the expansion. Doesn’t that qualify for a Type I environmental review? We are talking about the storage of 1,100 gallons of fuel. There are other concerns as well, such as the change to the environment and quality of life. I moved here two years ago and we didn’t have the situation we are experiencing now. You heard the same concerns at town board meetings and at the airport meeting from people living all over town.”

Giza: “Well what do you want me to do, close the airport? Why don’t you go to the FAA?

Resident: “I just told you that we did go to the FAA and they told us they are looking into it. Closing the airport is not what we are looking for. The safety aspects of this expansion project were not given consideration in the SEQR (environmental review).

Councilman Ron Ruffino: “Are you talking about the construction of the hangars?”

Resident: “I am talking about the expansion of the runway; the land that would have to be purchased.”

Ruffino: “There has been no change at all in regards of the fuel.

Councilman Donna Stempniak: “What was the SEQR for, the hangars?”

Resident: “No, I am talking about the 50 acre expansion of the airport.”

Stempniak/Ruffino: “We haven’t done that yet.”

Ruffino: “I thought you were talking about the expansion of the hangars.”

Resident: “I know this is going to take place in the future, but I am talking about what happened before, when Mr. Geles basically paid for the environmental review.
Isn’t that a conflict of interest?”

Town Clerk Johanna Coleman interjected: “No, I think you’re missing something. Are you talking about environmental assessment forms, or about FEIS (Final Environmental Impact Statement), or, what are you talking about?”

Resident: “This is about State Environmental Review (SEQR) and concerns about critical airspace in regards the amount of airspace for takeoff and landing.

Coleman: “It depends who the lead agency is as to who looks into those matters.”

Resident: “That’s my question; who is the lead agency.”

Coleman: “Well, we don’t know.”

Someone else on the board answered that it was the FAA.

Resident: “The FAA has the environmental assessment given to them by the airport sponsor.”

Stempniak: “We weren’t involved. This is not one that is like the State Environmental (Quality) Review.”

Town Engineer Robert Harris: “When an environmental assessment is done, the project sponsor is required to fill out Part I; information about the property and then the lead agency looks at Part II which is the one that questions whether there is or isn’t (significant impacts) on Part I. It is my understanding it was done by the FAA as the lead agency because the town wouldn’t accept that. So, it was the project sponsor that filled it out and it was up to the FAA to determine whether it was at the threshold or not (significant impacts).

Resident: “That’s what we are looking at, namely, who the lead agent was. With the restricted airspace, the conflict with the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport and other safety related issues, regardless if the board is lead agent or not, this (impacts) need to be considered by the town. But, you’re saying you have no input on this at all.

Board response: “No.”

Writer: “Whoa, you are confusing me now regarding the process. So you’re saying that when they spoke at the airport meeting that they did an environmental assessment, they did not do a full Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS)?

Board response: “They may have; DEIS, FEIS, whatever”

Resident: “They said, it was an environmental assessment, but I don’t believe it was a Type I full assessment.

Writer: “So then it should have been the responsibility of the FAA to contact the public and tell them what’s going on. Isn’t there some process for doing that?”

Resident: A process where the public is made aware (and has an opportunity to bring forward potential significant adverse impacts). That wasn’t done here.

Writer: “There was only an EAF (Environmental Assessment Form) review, not a full blown SEQR. This is acceptable when a project this large is being considered?”

Harris: “Again, the FAA declared itself lead agency and they accepted their (airport) determination.”

Resident: “So even if this affects our town, the FAA was the lead agency and you have nothing to do with it?”

Coleman: “To give you a perfect example, the Thruway belongs to the town in certain areas. They would not place the town as lead agency for anything because it’s a state highway.”

Writer: “That makes the airport meeting dog and a pony show a little clearer.”

Resident: “They (FFA) tried to make their position clearer at the meeting, but they really didn’t.”

Board response: “They (FAA) are the lead agency.”

Resident: “I would think that with all the kinds of conflicts going on that the board would have more to say or be a part of the process instead of the FAA making all the decisions; a restricted airspace, a flight school and an expansion going on that impacts the whole town.

Giza: “Then why shouldn’t my house be restricted? Do you know how many planes fly over my house when the crosswind runway is down? There’s a plane flying over every five minutes. Do I get a restricted area? No! But, that’s okay. There are planes flying all over!

Resident: “I am talking about planes that are supposed to follow a flight pattern suggested by the airport that keeps them out of restricted Buffalo-Niagara airspace and one which gets them to a higher altitude. Did you read the (airport) letter? They are not doing that.

Giza: “The Buffalo-Niagara control manager said their radar was picking up planes that were 400 feet off the ground and higher. What do you want us to do?”

Resident: “Find put who was in charge of making all these decisions.

Next: Part II: Unlisted Action / Town accountability

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