Newport State Airport expansion plans discussed

COVENTRY — Preliminary plans in a public-private partnership to expand the Newport State Airport will be submitted in early 2014 for permitting and public comment.

Vermont’s aviation program administrator, Guy Rouelle, said Thursday he intends to apply for federal grant by May 1 to fund a runway extension, an expansion of the surrounding apron and construction of a building to store snow removal equipment.

Developers Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros, who took over management of the airport earlier in the year as part of a multi-project Northeast Kingdom Economic Development Initiative, plan to build an aircraft manufacturing site and at least one warehouse in 2014.

The pair will also finance a new terminal building, with intentions to house a customs office for international flights.

At a public hearing in Coventry on Thursday evening, many airport neighbors asked whether the proposed expansion was a “done deal.”

“It’s never a done deal until I actually have a grant in hand,” Rouelle said. He also underscored that all plans are still in draft stages, open to changes and conditions from regulators and public comments.

The runway extension was found to be eligible for a Federal Aviation Administration grant, but Rouelle said he doesn’t expect to find out till late summer whether the application will be approved.

Stenger, who attended the hearing, said he welcomed input and questions from the public to inform his business plans.

Other questions and concerns from the public included increased air and ground traffic, lighting and noise, as well as stormwater and wetlands impact.

Tree clearing also came up, given a 30-acre to 35-acre area that will have to be cleared for the planes’ approach to the runway.

Rouelle said the trees would need to be cut regardless of future plans, because unmanaged growth over the past few decades has allowed the tree height to encroach into the “approach surface.”

The firm McFarland Johnson has been hired for planning and engineering. Consultant Brian Smith said draft environmental plans and a draft master plan would be available for review and public comment in January.

Hilary Niles

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