The long-awaited master plan for the Martha's Vineyard Airport envisions longer and wider run-ways, more hangars, a bigger main terminal and room for retail shopping - all that but no land for a new jail.
The plan, released Wednesday during back-to-back meetings in the Planeview Restaurant, states it bluntly and in bold print: "On the point of the county jail, it was determined that a permanent release of airport land is not in the best interests of the airport or the airport system in general."
The reason is simple. With the growth in air traffic anticipated for the next 20 years, airport officials and managers are in no mood to give up any slice of what could someday be another airstrip.
What's more, the master plan questions whether it's appropriate to house people 24 hours a day in a jail setting so close to airport runways where noise is definitely a factor.
The report puts the emphasis squarely on aviation and expansion projects that could generate revenue for the operation. In detail, the plan outlines 22 separate projects in the next seven years whose total cost are estimated to exceed $27 million.
On this ambitious road map for the Vineyard air hub, the proposal to site a new jail and public safety training facility on 24.4 acres of airport land looks like a mere footnote, just 2 1/2 pages that end with a stamp of rejection.
Completed under direction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and published in two binders the size of telephone books, the plan comes at a time when airport commissioners have openly clashed with county commissioners over the single issue of a new jail to replace the cramped and outdated Edgartown House of Corrections.
In the last three months, county leaders unanimously backed the proposal and pressed the airport commissioner to follow suit and send a united message to the FAA. But four airport commissioners were evenly split on the question, and chairman Tim Carroll abstained from the vote. Yesterday, supporters of the jail project reacted to the news and promised more public debate.
"I still feel this is an ideal location for a jail," said Leslie Leland, chairman of the Dukes County Commission. "The FAA is off in the distance … and perhaps they have tunnel vision and think of the airport solely. We're thinking of the Island and what's good for the whole Island. It's important for the county to push forward with this."
Mr. Leland sent a letter to airport commissioners Wednesday, urging them to set aside time for Vineyarders to read the plan and a place for them to voice their reactions.
"The opportunities for public input to date have been limited to just certain aspects of the plan," he wrote. "To our knowledge, no real opportunity for review and input with respect to the plan in its entirety has been provided."
The Martha's Vineyard Commission has also asked for a chance to weigh in on the master plan. Executive director Mark London wrote airport commissioners this week, saying, "We would appreciate the opportunity to offer comment before its adoption."
Yesterday, county sheriff Michael McCormack hadn't yet seen the master plan. "I find this very disappointing," he told the Gazette when he learned that the FAA plan had spurned his jail proposal.
On Wednesday, Mr. Carroll convinced his board to hold a public hearing on the plan at their next regular meeting Dec. 4 at the airport. Meanwhile, copies of the plan can be viewed at town halls and libraries across the Island. A web site version will also soon be available.
But public forums appear to offer little hope of changing the mindset of airport commissioners and the FAA on this one question. According to Mr. Carroll, state and federal officials have made it clear that they won't support carving up any of the airport's 640 acres for a new jail and public safety training facility.
The proposal pushed by the sheriff and county commissioners is to site the jail somewhere within the 81-acre northeast quadrant of the airport parcel. But that section already hosts the airport's main navigation beacon, which stands in a fixed geographic spot and cannot be moved. Regulations require a buffer zone around the beacon that takes up nearly 30 acres of the quadrant.
Also, with heightened security measures in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks, airports simply need more space, the report stated. It also ruled out giving up any land in the northwest quadrant. "From an aeronautical perspective, it is good land management and an effective business decision to protect and preserve this last segment of airport land for airfield use," states the master plan.
While not unsympathetic, Mr. Carroll said he is also putting the needs of the airport first. "It would be nice to have a jail in the center of Island at the airport," he said. "The conditions at the jail are dangerous to inmates and staff, and the community has an extreme need for a new jail, but there can't be a permanent facility at the airport."
Looking at other land issues, the master plan gave a cool reception to a proposal to construct a dormitory at the airport to house summer workers, citing the noise factor. But the plan could allow for a temporary training site for Island firefighters.
The plan also calls for building a new road to link the main airport artery for vehicles with the main road in the business park. The tie-in would take drivers past the county administration building and Hot Tin Roof nightclub, opening up eight parcels on nine acres that could be used for a supermarket and other commercial space such as offices or shops.
The master plans focuses almost solely on aviation use and outlines nearly two dozen projects in the next seven years aimed at accommodating a growing airport.
Much of that growth is coming in the form of corporate aircraft, the private jet traffic in the summer months that has already stretched the aircraft parking capacity at the airport. As airport manager Bill Weibrecht put it Wednesday, the demands of "larger, faster, heavier aircraft" translate into the need for more hangars, bigger runways and more taxi lanes.
Mr. Weibrecht expects Cape Air to begin replacing its fleet with larger airplanes. The master plan also forecasts that air traffic, or enplanements, at the Vineyard airport will nearly doubles by the year 2020, requiring some form of expansion of the 15,000-square-foot terminal which is only two years old.
The logic guiding much of the master plan relies on the shotgun approach: if a project isn't on the list, it won't be eligible for state or federal funding. So far, costs don't appear to be keeping airport officials awake nights. In the last 10 years, the Vineyard airport has pulled in more than $23 million in federal, state and local grants, and Mr. Carroll expects that stream of grant money to keep on flowing.