Woodstock council nearing approval of airport MOU

·4 min read

Woodstock council failed to find a resolution to an undisclosed personnel issue discussed in a closed committee of the whole session Tuesday, Aug. 23, forcing a delay in approving a memorandum of understanding (MOU) surrounding the operation of the Woodstock Airport in Grafton.

The MOU charts the responsibilities of the town and the Woodstock Flying Association board of directors, who share management oversight of the airport.

The Tuesday council meeting also heard a letter from a Woodstock couple read into the record at the open session, criticizing the MOU and raising concerns about the airport's noise and negative environmental impact.

Sam and Karen Arnold previously wrote to council to complain about the noise created over Woodstock by planes flying low as they took off from the airport in Grafton. While acknowledging the airport made minor adjustments, including the halt of flights before 8 a.m., the Arnolds said the total number of flights increased since their first letter.

On Wednesday, Mayor Art Slipp said council debated the issue holding up the MOU during committee-of-the-whole because it involved a personnel issue. He said council found "no resolution," but staff will adjust the MOU over the next two weeks to bring it back before council on Sept. 13.

Slipp expects minor changes will resolve all issues during that time.

In their letter to council, the Arnolds said their concerns reach beyond the noise pollution associated with the airport.

"Airplanes and most other vehicles create both noise pollution and carbon emissions that are detrimental to addressing the human-caused climate emergency," they wrote.

The Arnolds added that most smaller aircraft using the Grafton airport create an additional downside as they are "frivolous when not being used for work."

The couple stressed the ongoing climate emergency and the need for all levels of government to take action.

"Climatologists have warned clearly and repeatedly that unless everyone, including municipal, provincial, federal and international governments, takes drastic measures to prevent crossing the 1.5 C degree line, or descendants are likely to be doomed," they wrote.

Quoting Woodstock Flying Association president Matt McLatchy's contention that Woodstock needs a "more viable airport," the Arnolds questioned how the MOU benefits the majority of area residents who neither fly nor want to put up with the airport noise.

McLatchy said he shares the Arnolds' environmental concerns, but like ground vehicles, widespread use of electric planes is several years away. He said an electrically powered aircraft visited the airport earlier this summer.

McLatchy disagreed with the term "frivolous" when describing the use of the airport. He said most of the flights out of the airport this summer involved training and business flights.

He said two flight schools operate out of the Woodstock Airport.

"These students are coming from away," McLatchy said. "They're bringing their dollars to Woodstock."

He said local businesses also own planes which they use to attend out-of-town meetings. While planes burn more fuel than vehicles per hour, he said, the shorter time it takes to fly to a distant meeting means burning less gas overall.

While acknowledging recreational flying, he said many recreational pursuits burn fossil fuel.

McLatchy said people who don't want planes used for fun will also have to pull four-wheelers, side-by-sides, dirt bikes and snowmobiles off the trails.

McLatchy said the airport took several steps to reduce the noise over Woodstock, including limiting take-offs until after 8 a.m. and taking off away from the town when wind direction permits. Unfortunately, he added, prevailing winds dictate flying over Woodstock in most cases.

McLatchy said that while the Woodstock Flying Association may consider expanding the airport and lengthening the runway sometime in the distant future, it would like to, if possible, pave the entire runway soon.

McLatchy said only 2,000 of the 3,500-foot runway is paved. He explained a completely paved runway would allow larger planes, including an air ambulance, to use the airport.

He said air ambulance flights to the region are currently limited to McCain's private airstrip in Florenceville-Bristol.

Like Mayor Slipp, McLatchy expects staff to work out all issues in time for council to pass the MOU at its next meeting.

He said the outstanding issue primarily revolves around clarifying the role of the liaison between the town and the airport.

Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun