Wednesday, July 4 – OC Airport Expansion Opposed By Most At Hearing

OCEAN CITY – At a public hearing and workshop last Thursday, over 100 citizens gathered to garner further information and voice their opinions on the future of the Ocean City Municipal Airport in West Ocean City.

The public workshop gave concerned citizens a chance to ask questions and review the proposals for the airport expansion and the recently completed environmental assessment. The public hearing gave citizens a chance to voice their opinions and concerns.

The public hearing was the next step in the airport expansion plan, a work in progress that has been evolving since 1998 when the Airport Master Plan began. The Master Plan was completed in 2002 with the goal of conforming to the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards.

An Aviation Task Force was created at that time and consisted of West Ocean City and Ocean City property owners, business owners and pilots. The Aviation Task Force voted 22-1 for Alternative C to be the preferred development concept and submitted the preferred alternative to the Mayor and Council.

The preferred alternative extends the east-to-west runway to 5,000 feet, expands the north-to-south runway to 4,160 feet and calls for a relocation of Route 611.

The environmental assessment, which studies the impact that lengthening the runways will have on the environment, was completed in 2006 and submitted to the FAA. The draft was recently returned to the town, spurring the public hearing. The assessment shows 40 to 45 acres of wetlands to be displaced with an additional 175 acres of land displaced.

The environmental assessment was largely paid for by the FAA, with the Maryland Aviation Administration (MAA) and the town each contributing 10 percent of the $450,000 cost. The assessment is currently available at City Hall, the Ocean City branch of the Worcester County Library on 14th Street, the airport and at the Northside Park recreation office.

Supporters of the plan hope to gain an updated aviation facility to provide an improved level of service in aviation and to meet the forecasted demands for airport traffic.

Area resident James Dori spoke in support of the expansion at the public hearing.

“I totally support this airport expansion,” he said. “I think it’s necessary and realistic.”

Dori went on to stress the importance of the airport and the loss that the area would feel if it was to shut down.

“We’re going to need a bigger runway,” Dori said as he explained the potential growth of the airport.

Opposition to expansion and to the environmental assessment was heard for the remainder of the public hearing. People voiced concerns over environmental impact, displaced land and families, economic impact and property value.

Bud Church, a county commissioner and West Ocean City resident, came forward to speak as a resident, emphasizing that he was not speaking on behalf of the county’s elected officials.

Church referred to the countless e-mails and phone calls that he had received on the subject saying, “98 percent are very much opposed to this expansion.”

Church addressed concerns over three issues – economic impact, displaced families and the environmental impact study.

“It would be a huge injustice to displace those families,” Church said. “We have a wonderful airport in West Ocean City and I would not want to see that disappear, but I am not in favor of extending the runways.”

See the complete story and more comments made at the hearing in Friday’s issue of The Dispatch and its updated online version.