Martha’s Vineyard Airport is in the midst of a runway renovation project, but any expansion of airport facilities is years down the road, airport officials said at the airport commission’s monthly meeting Wednesday.
Commissioners sought to clarify a report in the Vineyard Gazette that made expansion plans appear imminent. The airport is not “turning into the next Logan,” airport commission chairman Bob Rosenbaum said.
Airport projects must undergo extensive review by the FAA and must be funneled through a number of intensive screening processes — namely, the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act, which requires an environmental notification form (ENF). The ENF provides an initial review to define the scope of the project. Following this first step, an environmental impact report (EIR) must be created detailing the specific impacts to the environment (if any) and providing alternatives that could mitigate negative effects.
If the project is deemed to not have a significant impact on the environment, a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) will be submitted.
Only after all these steps have been taken can a project be moved to its final design and permitting stages.
Information in that recent article contained inaccuracies and prompted public outcry, Rosenbaum said. At issue is the airport’s master plan, which projects what could happen at the airport over the next 20 years, he said. That plan, which was created two years ago, must be as elaborate and wide-reaching as possible in order for the airport to get funding from the FAA. “If we want to do a project that is not at least mentioned in the master plan, it’s nearly impossible for us to get funding,” Rosenbaum said. “This does not mean that every project in the master plan will be done, or that some of those projects will look anything like that master plan.”
A public forum was held when the master plan was being drafted to make people aware and receive input, according to Rosenbaum.
He said the only active project the airport is currently undergoing is the rehabilitation of the main runway, 624. The next project that has just started is the rehabilitation of the crosswind runway.
“When I say rehab, I mean the runways will be exactly the same length; we are not expanding the runway in any way,” Rosenbaum said. “We are rehabbing them from a safety perspective.”
He said seven other projects are being considered over the next seven years.
Project engineer for McFarland Johnson Matt O’Brien described the capital improvement plans project, which comes from the master plan. “One of the functions of the master plan is to come up with recommendations for improvements,” he said. O’Brien said the FAA found no environmental considerations involved with rehabilitating the runway, so it was approved.
O’Brien also mentioned reconfiguring the geometry of the crosswind runways so they are simpler, safer, and more easily accessible. “That could possibly have some environmental considerations that we should look into,” he said.
This reconfiguration would mean removing Taxiway Echo and eliminating old shoulders and runway aprons and replacing them with grass. O’Brien explained that the airport used to be a Navy facility, with lots of additional asphalt. Now that asphalt is cracking, and creating a potential for foreign-object debris, which is a hazard for aircraft.
Another issue O’Brien mentioned was the gravel road leading to and from the fuel-pad facility.
He said aggregate from the road is picked up in fuel truck tires and spread across the runway, creating more potential hazards. “We are proposing to pave these roads to create a more safe condition, and also make runway and apron maintenance easier,” he said.
One issue the airport is hoping to address in the future is the TSA screening area, which consists of a tent, a Porta Potty, and seating for approximately 75 people. “Right now, with current operating conditions, they can’t meet what we consider a basic level of service,” O’Brien said.
The gridlock during peak summer hours was also briefly discussed. O’Brien showed pictures he took of the airport access road during a busy summer day, where traffic was backed up all the way to the main road. “What we are proposing is widening the entrance a little and adding an extra lane,” he said. “We need our facility to accommodate the current needs.”
These projects, O’Brien said, are “not even close” to the permitting and finalization stage, and are instead in the beginning stages of state and federal notification and data collection. “And the hardest part is finding funding for these projects,” O’Brien said.
Assistant airport manager Geoff Freeman brought up the topic of additional hangars, and clarified that these would be future additions only if an aircraft owner came that wanted to develop a new hangar.
And the space to build these hangars, Freeman said, is pre-existing. He said the turf tie-down area, a grass space where pilots can land and tie a plane down to protect it from the wind, could possibly be paved and used for an additional hangar.
Environmental scientist for McFarland Johnson Jed Merrow briefed the room on the beginning stages of MEPA and NEPA. “The two laws are very similar, they are process laws,” he said. Merrow said the biggest environmental issue at the airport is rare species. “There are a number of rare plants, insects, and other wildlife here,” he said.
Another important consideration is how groundwater will be affected by various projects. “The Island is designated as a sole-source aquifer, giving it a higher level of protection by the EPA,” he said. “We are also looking at archaeologically significant land and whether that will be affected.”
Rosenbaum chimed in to reiterate that even once this process is over, there are still significant permitting and application processes that must be considered.
Ferrow said the MEPA and NEPA process takes about 18 months, and will take at least another 12 months from this point.
A public MEPA hearing is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 31 at 5:30 pm.
Well, well, well
In other business, Ron Myrick of Tetra Tech gave an update on the current status of well contamination from PFAS, and what steps are being taken to mitigate health hazards.
PFAS is a chemical found in firefighting foam used to put out aircraft fires.
Myrick referenced a diagram showing groundwater movement away from the airport and toward the south shore of the Island. The diagram was color-coded in areas where PFAS was found at certain thresholds, in parts-per-trillion.
Tetra Tech has taken over 100 water samples, with higher concentrations of PFAS found near Edgartown–West Tisbury Road.
Myrick said Tetra Tech has begun installing water treatment systems at properties where samples tested at or above 70 ppt, the state’s guideline for PFAS. The systems use multiple vessels filled with activated carbon charcoal to remove any trace of microscopic contaminants.
The system is a point-of-entry (POE) system that allows all water in the house to be cleaned and monitored through a flow gauge.
Commissioner Trip Barnes wondered whether firefighting foam had been used at any of the properties that showed PFAS contamination.
Myrick told Barnes the foam used at airports is not for your everyday house fire. “These foams are fluorinated foams used for hydrocarbon fires,” Myrick said.
The next step for the airport and for Tetra Tech is to submit an immediate response action plan to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. This will give a summary of the investigation to date, as well as future plans for mitigation.
More source samples will be taken, but since each sample costs $210 to prepare and send to Alpha Labs in Westboro, and each filtration unit costs $4,000 to put into a normal residence, Myrick said, money plays a huge part.
Airport director Ann Richart estimated the to-date cost of PFAS mitigation and studies to be about $200,000 and counting.
A public forum regarding the action plan has been tentatively scheduled for Jan. 30.
Another issue the airport faces is what to do when major media companies arrive in the summer to report on PFAS contamination.
Rosenbaum said Fox 25 has already contacted the airport in the hopes of covering the ongoing problem.
Because of this, commissioners met with Andy Paven of O’Neill and Associates, a lobbying firm specializing in public relations and communications with government and media entities.
Paven said that because of the unique location and public image of Martha’s Vineyard, he expects the PFAS contamination will attract a large amount of media coverage.
Paven said O’Neill will advise the airport on proper ways to communicate with the media and the government. “We help turn complicated information into accessible language, things that reporters, producers, and viewers react to positively,” he said.