Portland planners, jetport officials on collision course over South Portland runway expansion

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PORTLAND — The Planning Board Tuesday rejected the advice of attorneys for the city and the Portland International Jetport and refused to back down on two conditions it included in its approval for jetport terminal expansion three months ago.

The board also added an additional condition, in response to the Stroudwater Village Association’s request that the board regulate the airport’s hours of operation.

The board’s action could result in the jetport and the Planning Board facing each other in court to resolve their jurisdictional differences.

The board was asked by the jetport to reconsider the requirement that a walking trail easement be provided along the Fore River, and the board’s assertion that it has jurisdiction over a planned runway expansion in South Portland.

Federal Aviation Administration officials, who have authority over the jetport land, have already denied the city’s request for the trail, saying it would be too close to the end of the runway. The Portland Police Department and federal Transportation Security Administration also expressed safety concerns.

“The FAA is the ultimate decision maker with regard to the trail,” Danielle West-Chuhta of the city’s corporation counsel office wrote in a memo to the Planning Board. “As such, the Board’s authority has been pre-empted and the trail requirement should not be imposed.”

Planners, however, told jetport officials to go over the head of the FAA New England Region manager’s decision to not allow the trail. If they are still denied – a prediction jetport manager Paul Bradbury made – then the jetport must pursue an alternative walking trail. And if that alternative is denied, officials need to find a different one.

The board also reaffirmed what it considers its right to review a planned runway expansion on the South Portland side of the jetport. South Portland officials are currently reviewing the application.

The runway expansion was not part of the jetport’s application to the city for permission to expand the terminal, and was mentioned in a presentation to the board concerning the master plan for the airport.

Furthermore, West-Chuhta advised planners Tuesday they did not have jurisdiction over a project happening entirely in another municipality.

“I think this is out of this board’s jurisdiction,” she said.

Planning Board Chairman David Silk said that if the runway expansion would increase runway traffic then Portland should have the right to review it, because it could adversely effect residents of the Stroudwater neighborhood.

Silk is a Stroudwater resident and former neighborhood association official.

After the meeting, Bradbury said the jetport disagrees with the board’s assertion it has jurisdiction in South Portland, and said he will discuss with other officials options for appeal to the City Council or the courts. If the jetport decided to appeal to the courts, the city would essentially be taking itself to court, since the jetport is owned by the city.

The neighborhood association asked the board to consider limiting the hours of operation at the jetport, saying that planes were taking off before 6 a.m. and using a runway that is supposed to be reserved for use by commercial planes only when there is a crosswind.

Thomas Ainsworth, an attorney speaking on behalf of the neighbors, said the jetport continually breaks FAA noise regulations. Several neighbors also said the airport was using the runway closest to Stroudwater much more and earlier in the morning than in the past few years.

“Are you not following the rules?” Planner Joe Lewis asked Bradbury. “It sounds like that’s what the neighbors are saying.”

Bradbury said the jetport was following the noise regulations.

Still, the board voted to require the jetport to follow it’s FAA-approved Noise Compatibility Program as a condition of approval for terminal expansion.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net