Is Greig airstrip on final approach?

Red Hook residents got an opportunity to voice their opinions on the ongoing Greig Farm airstrip application at a Planning Board public hearing May 7.

Several residents voiced their concerns over the landing strip between Pitcher Lane and Rockefeller Lane, which has been in use for at least five years. One of the central issues was whether the runway was considered an airstrip or a private airport. The Town Code has provisions for the establishment of either an airport or an airstrip; New York State only allows for the term ‘airport’.

The point was first raised by neighbor Mathew Nucci of 222 Pitcher Lane. “That is why we got involved in this in the first place,” Nucci said. “If it is an airport, does that mean that other planes are able to use it?”

Prior to the meeting, Planning Board Chair Christine Kane sought clarification on this issue from the state Department of Transportation. Reading an email from DOT representative Edmund Buckley, she said, “The airport is placed on the [FAA] map as a visual reference and for aircraft which are suffering from an in-flight emergency. The public needs prior permission to use a private-use airport.”

Even with this provision, however, there was still concern that Norm Greig, whose application intends to ensure the airstrip is legal, could choose to allow a greater volume of air traffic in the future than he does at present.

Nucci’s comments were seconded by Kate Karakassis of 152 Pitcher Lane. “The application is so vague that we really don’t have a sense of what is being requested and neither does his statement that he is not going to be doing anything that he has not been doing before. It does not have the specificity that something that has such a big impact on the community requires,” Karakassis said.

She suggested that there should be restrictions on the number and type of planes on the property, the number of flights, the hours of operation and especially on the possible use of helicopters.

Karakassis noted that Greig has been a good neighbor but she was concerned that a future owner of the property might not be so considerate if limitations are not written into the special permit.

According to Kane, it is usual practice to attach conditions or regulations onto a special permit.

Greig told the hearing that many of the specific concerns may be moot because of the nature of the runway. The 2,000-foot grass strip is considered short by aviation standards and the lack of pavement further limits the size and type of planes that could consider the runway a viable option. He also said his runway would not be suitable for any commercial use, such as giving flying lessons or plane rides; the lack of lighting would limit all flights to daylight hours, and the grass turf cannot be plowed for use during the winter months.

The planning board did question whether two farm silos near Gigi Market on Pitcher Lane pose a safety hazard to planes during takeoff and approach. The two silos, which Greig said are 50 feet and 60 feet tall, are positioned on a neighboring property about 800 feet from the north end of the runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration recommends using a 20:1 ratio for safe clearance over obstructions, meaning for every 20 feet from the end of a runway, an obstruction can be one foot higher. At 800 feet, the maximum obstruction height under this rule would be 40 feet. But Greig said the silos are 300 feet apart and the flight path for his runway fits comfortably between them.

Greig’s application process, which has been in the works since August 2011, is nearing completion. After appearing numerous times before the Planning Board, the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Town Board and after appealing to the FAA and DOT, Greig now only needs final approval and a special permit. For that, the town board voted unanimously on May 8 to designate the planning board as the lead agency.

Greig still needs to provide the planning board with a signed copy of an FAA-required letter of agreement between himself and the owners of Skypark airport on Route 199, which shows that airspace issues have been worked out between the two entities. Once that is completed, the planning board can officially vote on issuing a special permit.

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