Army Corps Seeking Additional Information On Airport Plans

WEST OCEAN CITY – An addition to the Ocean City Airport expansion environmental report will be written after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the environmental impact of alternative changes to the airport were insufficiently examined.

In a July 6 letter addressed to Ocean City Public Works Director Hal Adkins, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Maryland Section Southern Acting Chief Paul Wettlaufer made a number of recommendations after a preliminary review.      

“I do envision based on the contents of the letter and other letters we have received, it will require a supplemental environmental assessment effort to address those questions,” said Hal Adkins, director of Ocean City public works. “It will probably take a number of months.”

Army Corps of Engineers Regional Project Manager Woody Francis said the purpose of the letter was to clearly outline the Corps’ comments.

“We wanted to identify certain things we felt were very important for them to consider,” said Francis.

The biggest issue outlined in the letter Adkins agreed to is the additional alternatives.

“Their letter has raised the concern that some of the other alternatives might not have been investigated thoroughly,” Adkins said. “We are taking the letter to heart.”

Another concern in the Army Corps review letter is the lack of a clear explanation of wetlands impacts. Less damaging alternatives were not given enough consideration in the environmental assessment, according to the letter.

“In accordance with the 1990 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between the Environmental Protection Agency and the Corps, mitigation sequencing must begin with consideration of total avoidance of impacts to waters/wetlands, then minimization of impacts to waters/wetlands, and lastly mitigation for unavoidable impacts.   It is recommended that the permit application include information regarding how the applicant has considered avoidance, minimization, and mitigation for the wetland impacts associated with the proposed work, given the extent of the wetland impacts being contemplated,” the letter said.

On the topic, Francis said, “There’s been no accurate delineation of impact totals. Wetlands are a concern because they’re talking about 40 plus acres.”

Adkins is not disturbed over the comments.

“They haven’t caught me off guard. It will be addressed,” he said. “There was an expectation that at least some of the agencies would have comments.”

The environmental evaluation process requires planners to send the document out to a number of agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment. Adkins said he knew he would get comments back on the four-inch thick document.

The Corps’ concerns will need to be satisfied to proceed with any improvements or changes to the airport, as the town must get permits from the Corps.

“For the most part we’re able to work things out, to modify the applicant’s proposal,” Francis said.

The Corps has not received that application yet. “No decisions have been made,” Francis said.

To continue with the preferred approach, the town must convince the Corps that there are no other practical alternatives that will cause less wetlands damage.

The Crops would also like to know more about the higher costs of some alternatives. The letter raises questions about the possible usage of the golf course next to the airport, which was originally purchased by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for airport expansion, although Ocean City recently reimbursed the FAA for the land. The project must also be shown to be in the public interest, which includes several factors, from employment to wildlife.

“It’s not apparent why FAA estimated the expansion of runway 2-20 to cost $2.2 million more than the expansion of runway 14-32, particularly since the airport improvements are comparable on each alternative, but the highway relocation expense would be greater on the runway 14-32 alternative.  Did the estimate for the runway 2-20 alternative include the cost to buy the entire golf course?  Please provide FAA’s rationale on this issue since we do not believe that the entire golf course would be considered a take, particularly if sufficient land is available to the south to replace the five or six impacted fairways,” the letter said.

The most striking comment in the letter suggests that Route 611 be moved even further west to impact fewer wetlands. The rerouting of Route 611 was a controversial topic at a recent public comment meeting in Ocean City. At that meeting, 16 of the 17 speakers were against the city’s plans for the airport.

“In an effort to considerably reduce the acreage of impact for the MD 611 highway relocation, it appears that by shifting the MD 611 highway relocation alignment further westward than the alternative described as Alternative C, it could skirt the edge of the existing farm fields rather than divide the PFO wetland.  Please address this as a minimization option,” the letter reads.