HAVERHILL — The Board of Selectmen on Monday narrowed down its options for Dean Memorial Airport.
Following a 90-minute public hearing, the Select Board rejected three out of five proposals to improve airport safety.
They will decide between the remaining two plans at their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12.
The preferred plans remove obstacles (such as trees, utility poles, and airport buildings and vehicle traffic on Airport Road) that pose hazards for aircraft taking off from, or landing at, the town-owned airstrip.
Both options maintain the current runway length of 2,511 feet. They would require a certain amount of property acquisition, including the purchase of property and air rights. Neither is an airport expansion.
“I think we need to keep what we have and we need to make what we have safe,” said former military pilot and Vice-Chair of the Select Board, Matt Bjelobrk.
Select Board Chairman Fred Garofalo made clear “It’s a safety issue, it’s not an expansion issue.”
A key difference between the two plans is that one would reconfigure and maintain Airport Road, while the other would remove an 1,100-foot section of the road and install vehicle turnarounds on either side of the runway.
Select Board Member Steve Robbins supported keeping the road open, “We’ve got a school [Haverhill Co-operative Middle School] not far from the airport and we all know what’s gone on at schools in recent years. And if something goes on at that school, I want the police department to have every access they can to get in, [and for] emergency vehicles to be able to get in. I just cringe at the thought of closing that road.”
Planners Dubois & King, of Randolph, Vt., developed the five options as part of a safety study, which was funded through a $241,500 appropriation at the 2020 Town Meeting.
Once the Select Board chooses a preferred plan, it would eventually go to a Town Meeting vote.
While the project would mostly be federally funded, particularly through the Airport Improvement Program, Town Meeting would have to approve some local funding.
The work is recommended through the airport’s 10-year capital improvement plan and is needed to bring the airport into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards.