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Environmental Assessment planned for proposed airport upgrades


October 27, 2010
WHITEFIELD — Another step has been taken toward significantly upgrading the Mount Washington Regional Airport (MWRA). The changes could potentially include the installation of a full Instrument Landing System (ILS).

The Bureau of Aeronautics of the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT) was authorized at Wednesday's meeting of Governor and Council in Concord to provide $267,474 to the Town of Whitefield to conduct an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the MWRA in connection with several proposed developments at the airport. Ninety-five percent of the funds are coming from federal funds, with five percent from the state's general funds. No local match is required.

The EA will document any potential environmental impacts for several proposed development projects: a full parallel taxiway "A" that will be approximately 2,300 feet long and 35 feet wide; obstruction removal to achieve a clear approach to Runway 10; and a Instrument Landing System (ILS), including installing a new localizer to replace the existing now-outdated state-owned one, distance measuring equipment (DME), Glide Slope Antenna, and an approach lighting system (MALSR). These potential projects are planned under the Airport Improvement Program (AIP) of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the State Block Program.

A $254,468 contract is ready to be signed between the MWRA Commission and Fay, Spofford & Thorndike (FST) of Burlington, Mass., the engineering firm that will prepare the EA. A little over $13,000 will be retained locally for contract administration.

An environmental sub-consultant — Smart Associates of Concord — will delineate approximately 6,000 linear feet of wetlands and also provide a functional analysis. The sub-consultant will also survey biotic communities. The Wetlands section of the EA will be both significant and lengthy. Smart Associates will report on any potential diminution of the values and functions of the existing wetlands in the proposed construction area.

The EA's section on Project Alternatives will outline a "no-build" alternative as well as a "build to standards" alternative, including a discussion of wetlands avoidance or mitigation.

The preliminary taxiway design will consider various profile and side slope configurations in an attempt to minimize wetlands impacts.

The proposed parallel taxiway and ILS is adjacent to a wildlife refuge owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "However the proposed action will not have an impact on the adjacent properties," the contract states. "Therefore the discussion (of environmental resources) will be relatively brief."

Discussion on noise will be very limited in scope because, according to the contract, the existing noise contours at the airport are not expected to change.

FST will prepare construction cost estimates for each element of the proposed construction project.

FST will collect existing demographic information and briefly discuss the social impacts associated with the proposed improvements. FST will also prepare a brief summary of induced socio-economic impacts, including business and job growth-attraction as well as demands on fire and police departments.

Meetings will be held with various state cultural and historical agencies and departments. FST will be in touch with several local and state agencies to obtain existing planning and master plan reports for the Whitefield area and then prepare a discussion how the proposed developments relate to the overall plan for the surrounding area.

Because the proposed MALSR has sequenced flashers that would extend onto private property located west of Colby Road, the EA will also consider light emissions.

FST will prepare a detailed discussion on the cumulative impacts of previous projects as well as future planned projects.

The EA will include a section on "Adverse Impacts Which Cannot Be Avoided" due to construction of the proposed improvements.

"Mitigation Methods to Adverse Impacts" will be a significant section in the EA. FST will investigate on-site mitigation, off-site mitigation within the same watershed, and off-site mitigation outside of the watershed area.

"The impacts will exceed those impacts eligible under the state's In-Lieu Fee program," the contract states. "FST will investigate and identify various parcels of land that may be suitable for use as off-site mitigation and present a discussion as part of this section (of the EA). Conceptual estimates of wetland impact range from approximately 8 acres to 14 acres, depending upon the selected taxiway profile and side slope variations."

FST will hold two public informational meetings during the EA process. "The purpose of the two meetings is to present the proposed projects to the general public to obtain public input and respond to comments received," the contract states.

Upon approval of the EA, FST

Will prepare a FONSI (Finding of No Significant Impact) that details the reasons why the proposed action will not have an adverse impact on the environment.

A draft FONSI will be prepared and distributed to NHDOT, FAA, and the owner for review and comment.

Once approved by NHDOT, FAA and the owner, FST will distribute the FONSI to agencies and individuals that either made substantive comments or specifically requested copies.

The Final EA will incorporate all comments, plan modifications, and mitigation modifications identified by review agencies and 50 copies will be prepared for public distribution.

During the EA process, FST will attend six of the Airport Commission meetings to keep members abreast of the EA's progress and to address potential conflicts.

The EA is expected to be completed in the fall of 2011.

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