Council votes in favor of airport proposals

Christopher J. Willenborg, C.M., airport manager at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport. (THE WESTFIELD NEWS FILE PHOTO)

WESTFIELD – At-large Councilor Richard K. Sullivan Jr. asked the City Council at the June 2 meeting to accept a time-sensitive grant of $176,200 from the MassDOT Aeronautics Division for an Avgas Self-Service Facility at Westfield Barnes Airport. The grant requires a city match of $35,240 from Free Cash.

Sullivan said the grant must be spent by the end of June, and asked airport manager Christopher Willenborg to describe the project. Willenbord said the grant would be for engineering design and permit services only, but that he is hopeful the airport would be coming back before the council for a construction grant as well.

Willenborg said Avgas is like a gas station where a pilot is able to fuel his own aircraft. He said the gas and staffing for the mobile refueler which currently drives between hangars is getting more expensive. The Avgas station would be a permanent stationary facility, located in between Hangars 2 and 3.

Sullivan congratulated Willenborg and the Airport Commission for getting the end of year grant. He said having a properly engineered and designed station would cut down on mobile delivery and be environmentally much safer.

Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli, Jr. asked about users, and whether pilots are used to a vehicle coming up and fueling their planes.
Willenborg said Avgas stations are a trend in the industry, and pilots are getting more used to fueling their aircraft. He said there are instructions posted and an emergency shutoff, which has to meet federal requirements. “It’s pretty common, most pilots have pumped their own fuel when they travel around New England,” he said.

At-large Councilor Kristen Mello asked how much gas they would hold, and Willenborg said each tank holds 6,000 gallons.

Ward 3 Councilor Bridget Matthews-Kane asked whether this new project would help the airport become more financially self-sustaining, a goal of the council.

“Yes, there would be more gas revenue. Based on direct revenues, we’re generating nearly $1.2 million in direct revenues to the city. This past year due to runway repair, we won’t be in the black,” Willenborg said.

In response to another question, Willenborg said customers may still use the mobile gas service, but they would be paying more. He said the Avgas self-service would cost 50 to 75 cents less per gallon. A motion to approve the grant passed, with Mello voting no.

The council also approved a resolution from the Legislative and Ordinance committee for lease of airport property over a term of 20 years for the development of three aircraft hangars.

L&O chair William Onyski said the resolution is needed any time an airport lease goes over 20 years. He said in this case, the lease is for 20 years but with two ten-year options to review.

Onyski said the Airport Commission had approved the proposal from Exit 3 Aviation to lease 2.135 acres with the intention to put up three hangars, two corporate style hangars for business jets, and a smaller 6,000 foot hangar for smaller planes. The lease is for $29,000 per year, with the price to be looked at and adjusted every three years.

Onyski said the hangars will be connected to the Alpha One taxiway, and the company will build its own ramp. He said all building plans would have to go through the Planning Board.

At-large Councilor Dave Flaherty asked what 2.135 acres is worth, and whether the land and buildings would be taxable. Onyski said the land value is based on a 29 cent per square foot appraisal of airport land. He said the $3 to $4 million investment by the company will be taxable.

Mello asked whether the Law Department has reviewed the lease with respect to liability insurance, drainage, discharge, fire suppression and owner vs. tenant or operator liability.. She said they need to “make sure they do not damage the brand new very expensive filters” that are close by. “Until we have a plan moving forward on how to develop and protect, I’m a no,” Mello said, adding to Willenborg, “It’s nothing personal. I think you do a great job.”

Onyski said the Law Department had gone through the 16-page lease, which Mello said was not specific about water contamination. Onyski said that would be done at the Planning Board stage when they’re approving the buildings, and the council was voting on a land lease.

Willenborg said there are code requirements from environmental and stormwater agencies, as well as National Fire Protection Association fire codes which have to be met, and in the lease is broad language that the tenant has to meet all federal, state and local requirements, whether environmental or aeronautical.

Matthews-Kane said the project is in a water resource district, so that would have to follow all of the rules. The resolution was approved, with Mello voting no.

Later on the agenda under new motions, At-large Councilor Dan Allie said he would like to discuss community gardens on city-owned land, and refer it to the City Properties subcommittee. He said he would like to investigate using land that had been vacated near the airport for noise mitigation as being one of those options for community gardens.

Onyski, who is the airport liaison for the council, said the noise mitigation team the city has contracted with has on their radar potential uses for the property. “You can’t just build a house there; this is going to be the tip of the iceberg. Community gardens are one of the items that have been brought up. It’s good to see we’re taking a look at it, also,” he said.

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