Edgartown selectmen consider new Katama hangar agreement


Nearing the end of a tortuous, often-delayed, eight-year project to build a new, larger hangar at Katama Airport, at the weekly meeting of the Edgartown selectmen Monday, Edgartown town counsel Ron Rappaport asked selectmen to pause and consider whether the ramifications of a final agreement, which includes a complex conservation restriction with more than 16 pages of legal language, is what they really want.

Mr. Rappaport said the project started as a concept, evolved into a town meeting, then an act of the legislature, followed by more than two years of legal wrangling.

Town officials blame The Nature Conservancy (TNC), which holds the conservation restriction on the Katama Airport, for long delays and unreasonable demands that have delayed the project. TNC had objected to any airport expansion into protected areas.

The Massachusetts Division of Conservation and Recreation also holds some authority over the land use, as part of the original agreement.

“The end product is much more complicated than any of us contemplated,” Mr. Rappaport told selectmen at their Monday meeting. “I thought it was a good point to hit the pause button. We’re giving up a lot to double the size of the hangar. I want everybody to be clear that we understand what we’re giving up.”

Mr. Rappaport said the town has the right to replace the current hangar with a structure of the same size, without amending the conservation restriction, or giving up any land.

In general terms, the agreement calls for amending the existing conservation restriction that currently controls land use at the historic grass airfield to allow the town to build a new, larger hangar. In exchange, the town would be required to put 21 acres of town-owned land off Pennywise Path under new permanent conservation restrictions. The land surrounds a town well, and town officials said it is not likely to be developed, but the new conservation restrictions would prevent any use, in perpetuity.

Town meeting voters approved the exchange at a 2010 special town meeting, but the issue is further complicated by the escalating cost.

Voters approved $250,000 in Community Preservation Act funds, and an additional $50,000 from the general fund for construction when the project began.

Airport commissioners now say $300,000 is not enough to complete the new hangar, and the town will need to ask taxpayers for more money.

“If we have to go back to the taxpayers, at the same time we should be ready to explain what we had to give up,” selectmen Michael Donaroma said in a telephone interview after the meeting. “Maybe that’s what we should be doing, but we need to look at it.”

In two separate meetings over the past year, Bob Stone, chairman of the Katama Airport Commission, forcefully urged selectmen not to sign the conservation restriction agreement, arguing that it placed too many restrictions on the town’s control over the hangar project. But at Monday’s meeting, he said he now supports the agreement.

The board took no action but asked Mr. Rappaport to prepare a brief summary of the agreement, including an explanation of the specific legal rights the town would give up under the new conservation restrictions.

“The ultimate lesson here is that conservation restrictions are really hard to change,” Mr. Rappaport said.

Other action

Also at Monday’s meeting, selectmen agreed to expand bar hours in the summer months, as they did last season.

From July through Labor Day, last call will remain at 12:30 am, but bars can stay open until 1:30 am.

From Wednesday July 3, through Saturday, July 6, last call can be extended to 1:30 am, with bars closed at 2 am.

Finally, the board accepted the retirement notice of treasurer Sharon Willoughby, who has worked for the town of Edgartown for 27 years. Ms. Willoughby first worked for the Edgartown School, then the police department, and then as treasurer. She will retire on June 30.

“We wish Sharon all the best in retirement,” selectman Art Smadbeck said.