Bennington sought say in airport renaming
By PATRICK McARDLE Herald Staff | January 26,2007
BENNINGTON — While some Bennington officials have voiced concerns about plans to rename the Rutland State Airport, the Vermont Agency of Transportation is saying that plane already has left the runway.
Select Board Chairwoman Lodie Colvin said this week she would like to see some questions answered before the town's William H. Morse State Airport gives up the rights to the title of "Southwest Vermont's Airport."
On Monday, the Bennington Select Board reviewed a request from Samuel B. Lewis, director of operations for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, for comments and recommendations concerning the possibility Rutland State Airport might be renamed the Rutland/Southwest Vermont Regional Airport.
However, on Wednesday, AOT Commissioner Neale Lunderville told the Rutland Regional Chamber of Commerce he planned to grant its request to rename the airport. While the commissioner may submit that plan to the Legislature, he also has the authority to order the change himself.
Lunderville said he planned to proceed because the agency had not heard any concerns from the towns it had asked for opinion. Bennington Town Manager Stuart Hurd said he hadn't received that request until last week although Rutland airport officials had mentioned their interest in Bennington's response earlier than that.
Hurd said Thursday he had spoken with his staff about the idea and saw no major problems with it, but he didn't receive a formal request for comment from the agency until recently. When Hurd received Lewis' letter, the next Select Board meeting was Jan. 22. That also was the deadline for comments to the agency.
John Zicconi, an AOT spokesman, said Lunderville had made his comments to the Rutland chamber before hearing about Bennington's concerns. However, now that the commitment has been made, Zicconi said, "it would have to be something extraordinary to stop the process."
Bennington still has not officially contacted the agency but questions only have been raised this week. The town's planning commission met Wednesday, and while they didn't have a quorum, members, including Chairman Barry Horst, said they thought it would be "inappropriate" for Rutland's airport to be the "Southwest Vermont Regional Airport."
Bennington Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Daniel Monks said planning commissioners voiced concerns because Bennington's airport generates more income than the one in Rutland.
However, Zicconi said it was true Bennington's airport generates more income directly, primarily as the headquarters of freight delivery service AirNow, but counting indirect income generated for the area and Vermont, Rutland generates almost $22 million, about twice as much as Bennington.
Zicconi said that while the agency planned to proceed, Lunderville said he would welcome an opportunity to discuss Bennington's concerns.
Colvin said she would welcome that opportunity as well. She said she understood why Rutland wanted the name change and didn't believe Bennington would go so far as to oppose it.
However, Colvin said she would like some assurances from the state that Rutland's new title won't have an adverse effect on Bennington's airport.
"I'm concerned this could diminish the ability of our airport to get funding because I know all the airports (in Vermont) want funding," she said Monday.
Colvin said she knew the state's ability to fund airports was limited and she didn't want to minimize the importance of Bennington's airport. She stressed there were no plans to add large runways to the airport but said it may need upgrades or other work.
Last year, Bennington town officials and others interested in local aviation and the businesses it serves took part in a committee working with the Bennington County Regional Commission to come up with a recommendation on airport improvements. The committee recommended the William H. Morse airport not extend its runway past the existing property.
While Zicconi said Lunderville would listen to Bennington's concerns, he said he couldn't say whether they would have more weight because they come from a town in Southwest Vermont that also has a state airport.
Rutland State Airport manager Thomas Trudeau could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Contact Patrick McArdle at Patrick.firstname.lastname@example.org.