New Airport Approach Zone Map Heading To Town Meeting

by Tim Wood

CHATHAM – A new map of the approaches to the Chatham Airport, updating one from 1958, reflects current conditions and will not expand the facility’s operations, according to officials.

Voters at the May 13 annual town meeting will be asked to approve the revised approach map as an amendment to the town’s general bylaws governing the airport’s operation.

The new map does not change the length of the airport’s two approach zones, but does widen them at the outer ends from 2,250 feet on the original to 3,400 feet on the revised map. The change is to account for an instrument approach that did not exist in 1958.

According to Airport Commission Chair Huntley Harrison, the airport has two approaches: a visual approach, known as surface 2, and an instrument approach known as surface 4. The 1958 map only applied to the visual approach surface.

The new maps conform to the current Federal Aviation Administration-approved airport layout plan and published FAA circulars, and do not change the way that aircraft approach landings and takeoffs, said Principal Project and Operations Administrator Terry Whalen.

The approach zones are distinct from the runway protection zones, which govern activities at either end of the approaches, he said. There are no changes proposed to the runway protection zones, he added.

Critics said that the new runway approach zone map will expand the airport’s operation. Michael Tompsett said the town meeting article is misleading and the map change is not necessary. David Bixby asserted that the map clearly shows expansion of the airport and charged that the commission has “clearly lied to the public.”

The new map reflects current conditions and does not expand the airport, said Harrison.

“Nothing changes,” he said at the March 12 select board meeting. “It will not bring in any planes bigger than we have now. The airport cannot accommodate because of [the runway’s] length any plans that are bigger.”

Under the draft master plan update the commission is currently working on, a proposed vertical instrument approach will replace the current visual approach which requires aircraft to circle until it is safe to land. The new map takes the proposed approach into consideration, Harrison said.

The airport commission is currently working on the trimming or removal of trees within the approach zones that could pose a hazard to aircraft. Outreach to property owners who may have trees subject to trimming or removal included the expanded area in the new approach zone map, he said.

“Every homeowner impacted by this has been contacted by me,” he said.

Town meeting voters should know exactly where those additional areas are, Select board member Dean Nicastro said. “What’s really critical is that people know what they’re being asked to vote on,” he said.

An interactive map is being created so that property owners determine if they are impacted, Harrison said. There will be opportunities to learn more about the new map. The select board will hold a public hearing on the bylaw amendment, tentatively scheduled for April 16. The airport commission will also hold a public information meeting April 10 which will include a review of the map warrant article as well as another town meeting article to correct an error in the language of the airport bylaw well as a funding request for electric vehicle charging stations at the George Ryder Road facility.

The select board voted unanimously to support the map article.

“The planes are flying, the approach that’s being used is what’s up there on the ‘24 map,” said board member Michael Schell. “Whether we approve it or not, that’s going to continue.”


Cape Cod Commission To Review Airport Vegetation Plan

CHATHAM – The proposal to clear trees and vegetation around a vernal pool on the Chatham Airport property will be going before the Cape Cod Commission.

The plan was originally referred to the regional agency by the conservation commission as a minor revision to its 2005 development of regional impact approval of the airport’s previous master plan. But the plan was determined to be a major revision, which will require public hearings before the entire Cape Cod Commission.

The airport commission has been notified of the change and provided with the appropriate application material, according to a Cape Cod Commission spokesperson. A hearing has not yet been scheduled.

The decision won’t impede the conservation commission’s review of the proposal, said chair Janet Williams.

“That was the outcome we were hoping for when we did our referral,” she said during the March 13 conservation commission meeting.

As part of the update of the airport’s master plan, a vegetation management plan calls for removal or trimming of trees that have or could grow up into the aircraft approach zone. The airport commission is currently working on plans to carry out the plan on private property on either end of the runway, and the conservation commission is reviewing a request for a variance from wetlands regulations to allow clearing in the 2.2-acre area under its jurisdiction.

The vernal pool, located on the southwest side of the runway, was first identified 20 years ago and is the “crown jewel” in the “ecological niche” the airport occupies, said commission member Robert Ralls. Commission members expressed concern for the impact on the vernal pool of the removal of trees that surround it. At last week’s meeting, the commission voted to hire an independent consultant to examine the vernal pool and the airport plans. The hearing on the variance was continued to March 27.