Airport Commission Voices Concerns to City Council

Jackie Shuck, "Fuzzy" Minnix, Bittle Porterfield and John Dooley.

Jackie Shuck, "Fuzzy" Minnix, Bittle Porterfield and John Dooley.

The Roanoke Regional Airport Commission along with Airport Director Jackie Shuck held a joint meeting with Roanoke City Council Monday morning. Storm water management fees were on the top of the airport commissions list of topics. “Fuzzy” Minnix remarked that he wanted to “minimize the shock” of the $200,000 annual stormwater fee he saw coming down the pike.

The airport will be the second largest facility impacted by the fees. Minnix argued that runways were like city streets and that citizens were not expected to pay city street stormwater fees, but that argument didn’t seem to hold much water. “The DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) was looking over our shoulder every time it rains,” said Minnix. Minnix asked for a time frame before the fees were imposed.

City Manager Chris Morrill responded saying that the time frame would indeed come and that “all the science is done.” Council members explored the ever-elusive regional approach to stormwater management. Vice-Mayor Dave Trinkle was not optimistic in getting cooperation from surrounding localities.

Mayor David Bowers assured Minnix that the Airport Commission would have an opportunity to be involved.

The $2.1 million Aviation Drive and Towne Square Boulevard intersection renovation will get under way in spring 2011 with final completion anticipated for December 2011. Minnix still held onto his preference for a roundabout at the intersection.

The use of airport owned land being planned for some kind of recreational use as the development plan moves forward for the Countryside golf course property did not fare well.

The property cannot be used in any manner that would attract birds or invite congregations of people. Shuck explained that they are even careful to cut the grass at a height that discourages geese and small birds. Anything that would affect airport safety is not allowed.

Shuck said that the FAA (Federal Administration Association) was becoming more restrictive and “there are not a lot of things they will approve.” Prior to the closure of the golf course the fairways in the RPZ (Runway Protection Zone) had been “grandfathered” in. It lost that designation once the golf course was closed.

When the RPZ was widened two years ago two homes fell within the zone. The airport authority said it would purchase them if they came up for sale.

Minnix indicated that if a greenway or picnic area in the RPZ were in the Countryside property plans they would ask the FAA for approval. ”The feeling that we get from our initial conversations with the FAA [is that] they would not be willing to let us have those type activities there,” said Minnix. The FAA fears litigation if an airplane crashes and someone was injured or killed.

“Even the property outside the RPZ should be safeguarded,” warned Minnix. “It only takes one accident.” He said on any given day there are one or two mishaps at airports. Minnix, in stressing his forty-year experience working for the FAA said, “I can understand what their reasoning is … if it’s only one [crash] it makes big, big headlines.”

When asked how much they would charge to lease the property Minnix said, “my gut feeling is we won’t have to worry about that because I don’t believe they are going to place anyone in a situation where they could be injured or killed.”

Shuck will work with the Planning Commission on use of the RPZ as Countryside development moves forward.