Mark Paslick, a transportation manager for GMC, the company which put together the EA, said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will look at all public comments and he commented, “You don’t know how long the process after this will take.”
Council members, pilots and more talk
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch and several members of Oak Ridge City Council attended the open house. City Councilman Charlie Hensley, himself a pilot, said the possible airport was a “great opportunity” for the city.
“We’re putting it on a brownfield that DOE was willing to part with,” he said. “It’s a match made in heaven for Oak Ridge.”
The possible expense for the city to run the airport, which is as yet unknown, has been a source of criticism.
“That may be a big hole for the city to have to cover,” Willem Blokland, an Oak Ridge resident, said at the meeting. His wife, Suzanne Blokland, criticized the airport taking money away from schools or infrastructure.
“If the airport is not self-supporting, it still generates business,” Hensley said. He and fellow pilot, Jerry Depew, said the airport would be valuable for cargo related to businesses that have expressed interest in the area, like nuclear fuel company TRISO-X and medical isotope company Coquí Radiopharmaceuticals. Depew said the latter company could benefit from transporting medical isotopes quickly.
“They have small, valuable cargo,” Hensley said.
Hensley’s fellow city council member, Ellen Smith, said she still has questions. “I have been trying to avoid having a strong position on the airport. I’ve had skepticism about it over the years, but I’ve also gotten some information that it potentially has a lot of merit for the city,” she said. “I’m not a big booster of the airport but I’m not against it either.”
“Generically, general aviation airports are good for communities. That’s a fact that comes from places far away,” she said.
She said FAA’s noise analysis was based on average noise levels leading to further questions presented at the open house and the EA, showed they are in the average 50 decibel range if the airport moves forward. More information at the open house described it as a quiet urban area or a dishwasher in the next room. Paslick described it as “significantly outside” the level of noise concerning the FAA.
“People don’t experience noise on average. They experience noise when it’s really loud or when it’s quiet, but it’s on an intermittent basis. A loud noise would bother you even if it’s not going on all day,” Smith said. “A real quantitative answer,” regarding the volume of a plane flying over The Preserve, might sound like a busy highway.
“We have a lot to learn,” she said. “All council has done is support continuing the process for building the airport.”
“We have supported the process, but we have not voted to say ‘Yes we’re building an airport.” But the FAA has to decide whether to fund the project.
Save the Bats
Two Oak Ridge residents, Sharon Crane and James Lewis came to the public hearing with a sign: “Save the Bats,” referring to the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat.
Work on the airport might clear trees that bats might use as summer habitat. Liz Porter with GMC said bats can have maternity colonies when they’re roosting in those kinds of trees.
“You want to make sure that you’re not cutting them down when that’s ongoing,” she said.
Porter said GMC will need to work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service “to do whatever assessments they want and come up with the mitigation plan that’s satisfactory to them.” They might approve cutting down trees in winter when bats aren’t there, offsetting the impact by paying into a conservation fund or doing acoustic surveys to see if bats are actually there
Airport versus land
“The value of this airport to the economy of Oak Ridge is far less than the cost of acquiring land, moving tons of earth to make it suitable for an airport, and then keeping it up,” said Sandra Goss, outgoing director of Oak Ridge-based Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning. “It’s not a cost-effective proposal.
“Pellissippi Parkway was built, and interfered with a lot of family farmland from here to Maryville, to speed people to the airport we have. Use that,” she said in reference to Knoxville’s McGhee-Tyson Airport in Alcoa about 30 minutes from Oak Ridge. It’s a busy regional airport with multiple direct connections to major cities and plans to expand operations and gates in coming years.
She also rues the proposed airport will fill a previously polluted pond eventually cleaned up to the glee of multiple birdwatchers and casual hikers.
“That thing has been remediated and dealt with by some of the smartest science minds available at the time. It’s a disservice to those people to shut down that pond when it’s working well.
“It seems like a less than wise investment of resources.”