Airport requests $10.25M Bond Order for improvements


Airport Manager Eric Billowitz answers questions on a requested bond order at City Council on Thursday. (Photo by Amy Porter)

WESTFIELD – Airport Manager Eric Billowitz answered questions at Thursday’s City Council meeting about his request for a bond order in the amount of $10,250,000 for several large projects at Barnes. In introducing the item, Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski, who is the airport liaison, said that the city’s share for upcoming projects would be $516,500 after federal and state grants, but the bond order is needed to show that the city has the money to sign contracts for the work.
Billowitz said the most pressing work to be done is frost heave repair on Runway 220 that was discovered by the FAA in February. A $950,000 grant is available to do the repair. “That frost heave was 2 ½ inches – at 3” they would shut the runway and close the airport,” Billowitz said.
Other grant projects include $3 million for drainage improvement on one runway, and $6 million for a total rebuild on another runway.
Billowitz said the work that the Council was being asked to vote on is all infrastructure improvement, but the frost heave repair is imperative.
At-large Councilor Matthew Emmershy said when he saw the bond order, he was hoping that it was for projects such as a hangar, which would move the airport towards becoming budget neutral.
Billowitz said the improvements would put the airport’s “house in order,” and said there is interest in the work they are doing now, which promotes business for the airport.
Dave Flaherty asked why taxpayers who drive Chevy Impalas and deal with significant road problems, should be paying $1 million a year to cover the airport for people who ride GulfStream jets and fighter planes? Billowitz replied that Gulf Stream and other tenants at the airport return $600,000 to the city in real estate taxes.
Ward 1 Councilor Mary Ann Babinski said “the elephant at the airport” is the aquifer it sits on, and said she wanted people to be reassured that in every project going forward the airport will be mindful of the aquifer, which Billowitz acknowledged.
At-large Councilor John J. Beltrandi, III said that several of the items being discussed are required by the FAA and not negotiable, such as potholes, drainage and sound insulation, which must be done in order to qualify for grants. “5% of the $10 million plus is a good deal for the city,” Beltrandi said.
At-large Councilor Dan Allie asked whether the city would be paying for the work and reimbursed, and what the timeline would be for the work. Billowitz said each project has its own timeline, over the next year or two, and the work would be reimbursed when completed.
Treasurer/Collector Matt Barnes said the city would not be selling the bond for $10 million, but only for the city’s share of the work to be done.
Onyski made a motion to move the bond order to a vote on a first reading, which passed unanimously. The Council then voted to send the bond order to the Legislative & Ordinance committee, and schedule the second vote for the next meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 22.

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