Bird-control rule creates new landfill flap

Opponents cite aircraft safety concerns

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

A rule that forbids new landfills near airports does not apply to the proposed landfill in Williston, a federal agency has concluded.

The Federal Aviation Administration decided the regulation was not applicable, wrote Brian Searles, director of Burlington International Airport, in a letter to the town of Williston last month.

The Chittenden Solid Waste District has proposed a landfill on Redmond Road that would accept trash from within and perhaps outside of the county. The proposal has generated widespread opposition among nearby residents, who have formed a group called the Williston Neighborhood Coalition.

Though Burlington International is only about three miles from the proposed landfill, the airport does not meet all the criteria needed to be subject to the rule, the FAA said. The regulation generally applies to landfills within six miles of an airport and is designed to prevent the seagulls that flock to landfills from colliding with airplanes.

For the regulation to apply, an airport must be “primarily” served by aircraft with fewer than 60 seats. The FAA, in a 2000 letter to the waste district, said that 63 percent of the commercial flights at Burlington International use aircraft with more than 60 seats.

But the Williston Neighborhood Coalition disagrees with those numbers and the conclusion that the six-mile rule is not applicable, said Craig Abrahams, a member of the group.

“We totally dispute that,” he said. “And we will be conducting an investigation of each and every airline that flies out of the airport.”

Abrahams said things have changed dramatically in the past six years, with airlines moving to smaller planes. He said a recent check on five different days of Web sites for airlines serving the local airport showed that 76 percent of flights had 60 or fewer seats.

He said the FAA, the airport and the city of Burlington have stonewalled requests for updated information on flight seating capacity.

Searles said that allegation is “just untrue.”

“The issue isn’t as simple as it is being portrayed,” he said. “The types of aircraft are continually changing.”

The airport tracks passengers but not aircraft capacity, Searles said. To get an accurate accounting of airline seating, he said the FAA needs to calculate data compiled over an extended period of time.

The FAA is in the process of doing that, Searles said, promising to publicly release the new information when it is available.

FAA representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Tom Moreau, CSWD general manager, said the waste district has long been aware of concerns regarding the landfill’s proximity to the airport.

“You don’t go into a project like this without crossing every ‘t’ and dotting every ‘i,’” he said.

In addition to its original inquiry in 2000, CSWD recently sought an updated opinion on the applicability of the six-mile rule.

With any landfill, “seagulls are going to be an issue,” Moreau said. But he is confident the waste district can limit or even eliminate birds by employing measures used by other landfills. Tactics include flares, noisemakers and even falcons.

Abrahams is skeptical that the landfill can really control seagulls. He said the birds soon adapt and return to feast on garbage.

Concerns about bird-aircraft collisions are especially acute in Williston because both passenger planes and fighter jets from the Vermont National Guard base often fly low over homes on their approach to the airport, Abrahams said.

Searles said he expects updated data on aircraft seating to be released in the near future. No matter what the new numbers show, he said the airport will continue to monitor the landfill proposal to ensure all necessary safety measures are in place.

“We’re very concerned about safety,” he said. “But we don’t have jurisdiction over the safety rules.”