Great Barrington airport's proximity to aquifer, zoning, cause for concern

GREAT BARRINGTON — Zoning can be tricky, especially when an airport landed in a residential/agricultural area before there were zoning laws to say it couldn't.

And it gets even more complicated when an airport happens to be on the aquifer that feeds the area's drinking water source, and is now zoned as a Water Quality Protection Overlay District.

While the Walter J. Koladza Airport has a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection to swap out an old aviation gas fuel tank, Select Board members recently said airport officials should come before the board for a special permit.

It happened after a resident who lives near the airport told the board that the town's water protection district bylaws appear to require that Berkshire Aviation Enterprises go through a more rigorous local process to ensure the safety of the aquifer 20 feet down.

Joseph Krummel, who is an attorney, further said the bylaws also require a containment system for two fuel trucks that are temporarily dispensing leaded and unleaded fuel until the new tank is installed.

A Berkshire Aviation official said it's meeting state and local requirements.

But Krummel is taking it a step further: He said an underground fuel tank shouldn't even be allowed in a water protection district, especially since the airport doesn't conform to current zoning regulations that were enacted long after it began operating.

The concerns are the latest in an ongoing debate and controversy that began when the airport sought a special permit last year to build new hangars, then morphed into worries about possible lead contamination from leaded fuel still used by most small airplanes.

While the airport now offers an unleaded gas that about half its clients can use, any gas is still a hazardous material and one Krummel and other residents say require more precautions.

"We have one drinking water source, and if you have one accident, that's it — the publicity will shut down the town, and we'll have gasoline in our drinking water," Krummel said.

In a written exchange between Krummel and town Building Inspector Edwin May, Krummel pointed out what he thought the law said. May responded that he had acted according to the zoning bylaws to allow the airport to proceed, and added that a permit from the fire chief was not needed, which Chief Charles Burger confirmed with The Eagle.

The town Planning Board recently approved the removal of the old tank.

The airport plans to install the new 20,000-gallon tank below ground to avoid the potential for collisions and view line issues for pilots, Mark Roggen, the airport's business manager, said in a phone interview with The Eagle.

And Roggen said MassDEP is overseeing the entire removal, with a licensed site professional on hand. The new tank also will comply with the rule that it be double-walled and have an alarm system for leaks. A MassDEP spokeswoman confirmed that the agency has oversight of the tank removal and replacement.

"As far as I know, everything is in place," he said. "We've done everything by the book. A remove and replace is different from a new installation. We have a written paper license [from the state] to have this size underground tank."

Roggen said the airport is also in compliance with local bylaws.

But Krummel said it isn't, and that the town should more closely oversee the entire endeavor.

"The town should demand what kind of fuel system is going to be installed above or below ground," he said.

Pedro Pachano, who also sits on the Planning Board, said he supports the airport's existence but also is concerned about this oversight in the water protection zone and wants the matter to also go before other boards, including the Conservation Commission.

"Enlargement and alteration [at the site] that doesn't conform to the [water protection district] has to get special permit — any toxic substance requires a special permit," Pachano said. "[Anything] taking place over our aquifer deserves to at least be reviewed by the town and all these boards."

"[Bylaw statute] 9.2.12 says it's obvious it comes to us [for a special permit]," said Select Board member Ed Abrahams.

"They're already in violation," he added about the tank removal. "The system's already failed. The trucks are parked without any containment system. If something happens, there's nothing between that truck and the ground. How can that be OK?"

Still, no one was sure what is expected of Berkshire Aviation.

"Why don't we let them know we expect them to come here?" Abrahams added.

"It sounds like they do have to come here," said board Chairman Sean Stanton.

Pachano said hazardous materials should increase permitting rigor, and that way, a cloud of suspicion and worry won't forever hover over the airport. He also made a comparison.

"If someone doesn't have a permit for construction work, they get shut down," he said. "Let's get the airport in good standing so they can exist peacefully. [You should] advise Ed May and advise the airport to [go through] the special permit process."

Heather Bellow can be reached at or on Twitter at @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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