Airport Commission Asks FAA to Move on Jail, Land Transfer


Conversations around the airport commission table on Wednesday night left both the dormitory housing and new jail propositions for further discussion. Two proposals, however, will be sent to the FAA: to place a jail behind the Hot Tin Roof in the southwest corner of the airport property, and to make a land swap between the airport and the state forest.

Airport manager Bill Weibrecht attributes the continued delay to the question of how best to use airport land.

"We have multiple parties that want land at the airport," he said. "We have to consider three things: how much space does aviation need, what will the land be used for, and depending on what it is used for, whether or not that will be desirable."

Both Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack (who was not present at the meeting) and chairman of the summer workforce housing task force Norman Rankow have been pushing their respective initiatives for months. And while most members agreed that both projects are needed on the Island, comments ultimately circled back to the best interests of the airport.

"The land is here to be an airport first," Mr. Weibrecht said.

Regarding the jail, airport commission chairman Jack Law argued that there are two possible avenues to pursue: placing the new facility on seven acres in the northeast quadrant of the airport or conducting a land swap between the airport and the state forest.

Mr. Weibrecht later told the Gazette that the swap would involve approximately 22 acres of land at the end of the runway and a plot on the edge of the state forest.

"Runway land would be conserved for recreational uses similar to the existing state forest," Mr. Weibrecht said.

If the state were willing to give eight acres of land, Mr. Weibrecht said, the airport could trade away at least double that amount, thereby offering a very healthy two-to-one ratio.

Also, he said, "this [the land swap] has received the best reception from the state and the FAA."

He noted that there have been successful land swaps in the past, one of which was a recreation easement that allowed the bike path which surrounds the state forest to be built along both the Barnes and West Tisbury roads. In exchange, the airport received the right to build an aircraft approach lighting system in the state forest on the east side of the Barnes Road.

Pursuing the other avenue - the seven acres in the northeast quadrant of the airport - proved the more controversial option as commissioners argued over its viability.

"The jail is not going to benefit the airport," Mr. Law said. "The FAA will not allow that jail out there. If a jail can be put on another piece of property, I don't see the problem there. I want the jail, but I know it's not going to go out there."

Commissioner Frank Daly concurred.

"The sheriff should be notified that whatever his effort is would be wasted, and it should be redirected. Look ahead; history shows that we don't have future space for a jail."

Eventually commissioner John Alley moved that the airport abandon any attempt to put a jail in the northeast quadrant. With the exception of commissioner T.J. Hegarty, who argued that the sheriff should be present for discussing this matter, the motion passed unanimously.

Efforts to accommodate the new jail, however, were not abandoned. Moments later commissioner Nelson Smith moved the first of two proposals that would ultimately be passed that night - first that the jail be placed on a seven-acre parcel on the southwest corner of the airport property, just past the Hot Tin Roof. The motion was unanimously approved. The second, a motion from Mr. Hegarty, proposed the land swap. Mr. Alley was the only one to vote against this suggestion.

Requests to the FAA to withdraw the initial northeast quadrant proposal and introduce both the southwest quadrant proposal and the land swap will be made immediately. Meanwhile, Mr. Weibrecht said, commissioners will research and discuss the feasibility of these options.

Not forgetting the dormitory housing proposal, Mr. Rankow questioned the progress and future of his project.

"Where do we go from here?" he asked commissioners. "My big concern is carving out a hunk of land for us."

By a hunk, he meant fewer than 10 acres. In efforts to remain flexible, however, he said, "I'm questioning how much land we really need. We could probably work with half that. [But] our interest is just as strong [as that of the jail project], and I support both."

One obstacle raised by Mr. Rankow himself concerned installing water pipes and sewers on the airport land.

"It would probably cost $1 million for water, and maybe Edgartown is not in a position to do that now," he said.

Chiming in, Mr. Law offered an alternative proposal: placing the jail at the airport and the dorm housing in the present jail building on Upper Main street.

"You could put the jail where you want it and issue jail space to housing," he said. "That way [dorm housing] would be closer to town, there would be no septic or water problems. It's an idea. It gives you property. Everything's right there. It's an honest plan that could work."

Agreement circulated that the housing proposal would need county help, and Mr. Law added that they would also approach the sheriff with this idea. And while Mr. Daly was optimistic about neither the jail nor the housing proposals, Mr. Rankow said, "It may be a good compromise to consider both issues.

"I'm an optimist about the swap with the jail. I'd be surprised [if it worked], but stranger things have happened on the Vineyard."