by Ellen Lord
A group of Fayette County residents are fighting to keep Bluegrass Airport from spreading its wings onto neighboring farm land. The confrontation, which began over an expansion project proposed by the Airport Board in 1995, now hinges on the results of an FAA environmental impact study scheduled to be released late next year. The study, which will detail the impact of several expansion alternatives on the surrounding environment, was issued after a December 1995 letter from the FAA stated that the current runway did not meet safety standards.
“When we did a master plan update a few years ago, we identified a parallel run for capacity issues,” said Mike Flack, executive director of Bluegrass Airport. “Unfortunately, people had trouble making the transition (from) the master plan (to) the FAA and their requirements…. Capacity is not the issue…. We do not have 100-foot safety overrun on each end of the runway, and the taxiway is too close to the runway.”
In that letter, the FAA also acknowledged the need for Bluegrass Airport to expand for capacity reasons some time in the future, and that has residents worried.
“People come to Lexington to look at the beautiful horse farms,” said Jan Foody, secretary and treasurer of Airport Watch, a watchdog group formed to combat possible airport expansion. “And if you build a 9000 foot runway to accommodate more planes, there wouldn’t be any reason to come to Lexington.”
Expanding the current runway to meet the FAA safety guidelines, which would extend it to 7000 feet, could severely impact the horse farms surrounding Bluegrass Airport.
“The [farms] that are closest to it will be destroyed, and the ones that are a little further away will be disrupted,” said vice-mayor Teresa Isaac. “I don’t think you want to destroy our signature.”
Several historic houses, from the Bowman and Todd families, would also be jeopardized.
“This entire area has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places,” said Michelle Primm, a member of Airport Watch. Her own house on Bowman’s Mill Road was inhabited by William Lytle Todd, Mary Todd Lincoln’s first cousin. She said the increased airway traffic of an expanded runway would eventually ruin her house. “With the noise and vibration alone, the house could not withstand it,” she said.
Another point of contention for Air port Watch members is the motivation behind the study. Although Flack cites the FAA violations as the impetus behind the study, others are worried that the Board has economic motives.
“We uncovered some literature that the airport put together that said, in fact, that they wanted the airport to attract cargo planes,”
Foody said, referring to page seven of the June 1996 Master Plan update. The update projects that the airport will have 67,600 tons of air cargo by 2013, which is 15 times more tons than in 1994. “I don’t think the public ever got together and said, ‘Gee, we should have a larger airport.’ This was driven by a very few people.”
In response to the accusation, Flack explained that the airport has been unable to fill the cargo space it has now and isn’t planning on trying to expand for those reasons.
“This has never been about cargo, but when you do a Master Plan, you have to address every contingent,” he said. “They took that to mean that we wanted a new runway to have a cargo hub.
“We’ve got space for cargo operators now … but we don’t have any. Maybe that will change someday, but I don’t see it happening any time soon.”
Expanding the current runway to meet safety standards could happen as soon as the end of next year, when the FAA reviews the study. The study is exploring the impact of several expansion alternatives on 22 environmental areas, including air, noise, archeology, and economics, Flack said.
The Airport Board could choose not to expand but would probably be downgraded by the FAA and that would mean loosing flights and losing jobs, Flack explained. An alternative location for a longer runway could also be considered, but that wouldn’t happen quickly.
“If you want to build a new airport there are about five years of studies that need to be done and … 10 to 15 years to build it at a cost of $750 billion,” Flack said.
Until the results of the study are released, the Board won’t make a decision.
“Once the FAA study is complete, then will be the time to decide.”
GROWING IN THE RIGHT S.O.I.L.
Horse farm owners want to make sure URS Griner assesses the environmental impacts of Bluegrass Airport expansion correctly. To ensure accuracy, a group of horse farm owners and breeders have formed S.O.I.L., or Save Our Irreplacable Land.
“S.O.I.L. was formed because of the concerns that arose because of the 9000 foot runway that was proposed and (concerns) that the [impacts] would not be properly assessed,” said Sam Hinkle, a lawyer hired by the group. “The group does not want to start from a base of accusation…. They wanted to make very sure that their imput was heard and the analysis of these issues took into account and properly weighed the impacts.”
Horse farms neighboring Bluegrass Airport risk losing land if the Airport Board decides to expand, Hinkle said. In addition, horses would be scared and upset by the additional air traffic.
Members of the group include Keeneland, Calumet Farm, Shadwell Farm, Mill Ridge Farm, Winter Quarter Farm, Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.