Airport Vs. No Airport Tops Community Wish List
In the days leading up to the Horsham Land Reuse Authority's meeting on Wednesday, dozens have flooded email inboxes vying for or against an airport.
Like kids eagerly awaiting the holidays, the wish lists are pouring in. The item on everyone’s list—whether for or against—is an airport. And to prove their points, airport proponents and opponents alike are flooding -mail inboxes.
All in an attempt to have their voices heard and their wish met, dozens have sent letters in the last week alone to the Horsham Land Reuse Authority, copying Montgomery County Commissioners, Bucks County Commissioners and elected officials neighboring Horsham Township where the 1,100-acre Willow Grove air base is located.
But, unlike Santa Claus, the HLRA—the entity charged with finally ending the airport versus no airport decision—likely won’t answer everyone’s wish when, on Wednesday, the board finally weighs in on the 17 notices of interest, including two for an airport.
The board has received “hundreds and hundreds” of letters throughout the process, which began more than five years ago when the federal government announced that the base would be closed and operations would be relocated.
And, even the letters pouring in at the eleventh hour, according to HLRA Chairman W. William Whiteside, hold a certain degree of weight.
“Everything we get has an impact. Everything we get we have to take into consideration,” Whiteside said. “That kind of helps us understand what people are thinking.”
A far cry from the hundreds who attended HLRA meetings this year in opposition to continued use of the 8,000-foot-long runway, the letters submitted in the last week, by a 6-1 ratio, favor continued use of the runway.
In addition to hearing from Horsham residents, Whiteside said letters have come from “other states, other counties, everything under the sun.”
“That stuff obviously doesn’t have the same weight as people in town,” he said, adding that he would rather see original letters as compared to the multitude of form letters being distributed. “People that take a minute and write something down that they actually thought of—that has a more thoughtful impact. It means something.”
Calling the existing airfield a “unique asset,” Horsham resident Michael Gipson, in sending a letter from Save Willow Grove Airfield, said an airport would create regional jobs and “serve as an enticement” to existing and prospective companies.
“I believe a general aviation airport will support current and future economic development in our region,” Gipson wrote in his letter, as did many others, almost verbatim. “General aviation airports play a critical role in the national system of airports in the United States and contribute significantly to the economy.”
By contrast, Horsham resident Michele Fox, a resident of more than 50 years, said she did not support “commercial flight of any kind.”
The applications under consideration are for general aviation purposes. John Mininger, executive director of the Bucks County Airport Authority, the entity with the most promising airport application, has said the runway would be used for “personal travel in aircraft and business travel in aircraft.”
Mininger said the authority, which operates airports in Doylestown and Quakertown, is also not interested in scheduled flights, which would require special certification.
“It would only add danger to the lives and homes of those in the flight paths,” Fox wrote in her letter. “I know what it is like to have a jet crash in my backyard! Do you? Do you understand the fear and the years of anxiety some of us have had to deal with?”
And while the letters flood in, with the remaining hours until the board meets winding down, Horsham resident Tom Carr and other representatives from the grassroots group, No Airport in Horsham, have taken to canvassing the community trying to get as many residents in Horsham’s community center Wednesday at 7 p.m. as possible.
“There’s still a lot of people that really believe the airport is a closed issue,” said Carr, who lives within a mile of the runway.
On his street alone, Carr said there have been three plane crashes since the airfield became government property in the 1940s. Carr said he saw the 1963 plane crash that killed eight people in what had been a day camp not far from his current home.
“It was a ball of fire,” Carr said of the plane.
Carr’s observation, as well as statistics for and against the airport, coupled with emotional public comment, have dominated previous HLRA meetings. That will not be the case Wednesday, Whiteside said of the need to “limit” public comment.
“We’ve heard nothing but public comment and public input for months. We’ve had meetings devoted to public comment,” Whiteside said, adding that it becomes “redundant.” “We’ve got 17 notices of interest to consider. We’ve got a long night ahead.”
The HLRA will meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Horsham's community center, 1025 Horsham Road.