By Dean Narciso
They sat in the front row, clutching typed speeches vilifying Ohio State University¯s plans to expand operations at Don Scott Field. Then, William Baeslack III stepped to the front of the room in OSU¯s Fawcett Center and shared the news that defused airport opponents¯ anger:
The university is backing off plans to lengthen a runway and add several jet hangars for at least two years. Baeslack cited the costs to move buildings in the path of the expanded runway and ferocious opposition from residents who live nearby.
When it was his turn to speak, attorney David Zoll, representing the city of Worthington, appeared bewildered.
"My comments that I made don¯t fit anymore," he told the four-member facilities planning committee of OSU¯s Board of Trustees. "Everything that the dean said he was going to do was on my list of things that I was going to ask him to do today."
Glancing back at Baeslack, OSU¯s dean of engineering, he said:
"It¯s clear that Ohio State University, from what I heard the dean say, recognizes that they do have a duty to their neighbors."
OSU¯s draft master plan had recommended doubling the length of the airport¯s north runway to enable safer operations and longer flights, and building jet hangars to meet the demands of corporate customers.
Critics have said the plans would transform the once-sleepy 1940s airstrip into a "corporate jet gateway" and create additional unwanted jet-engine noise.
The university has said jets would take off and land at steeper angles to produce less noise.
The new plan calls for several additional hangars to house up to 40 private planes, Baeslack said. The university also wants to install a noise-complaint system and a $300,000 radar receiver.
"He showed me that he has acted responsibly," Zoll said of Baeslack, who inherited the airport problem about a year ago, when OSU hired him.
"He has acted objectively. I wondered for a long time who was steering the ship. It¯s clear to me that this committee and the dean are steering the ship and you¯ve got a good goal in mind, and that goal is consistent with the goals of the city of Worthington."
A month ago, Daniel M. Slane, chairman of the facilities-planning committee, said he would be surprised if the university backed out of the runway plans.
Yesterday, he seemed to embrace the decision, but he asserted that airport development and a new runway will and should happen after further study and support from the Federal Aviation Administration.
"I still think it will happen," he said. "I think that it¯s just going to take longer."
Besides public criticism, Baeslack said costs to relocate several buildings east and west of the runways weighed heavily in the decision.
Baeslack said he recently learned that FAA money could not be used to help rebuild agriculture and research buildings on airport property if the runway were expanded.
Officials from Riverlea and Worthington, which are most affected by aircraft noise, said they were pleased with the decision but stopped short of declaring victory.
"Our neighbor Don Scott Airport has outgrown its neighborhood; the parties have become too loud and boisterous," said Steve Mershon, Riverlea¯s solicitor.
"I¯m pleased," said Worthington City Council President Lou Goorey, "but I don¯t think the issue is going to totally go away. But if we haven¯t won the war, we at least have won the battle."
Dennis Hennen, president of the citizens group We Oppose Ohio State (Airport) Expansion, said, "It¯s promising that they¯ve deferred it, but the problem is still there."
Hennen¯s group has been a thorn in OSU¯s side, university officials concede. Expansion foes have filed scores of public records requests and accused the university of being unresponsive and irresponsible.
Baeslack said that FAA and other aviation experts have told him the university was justified in moving ahead with development plans.
Baeslack will meet next with community groups to further explain the plans. In October, he will submit a retooled environmental-impact assessment to the FAA. And by early next year, the board of trustees is expected to approve the plans.
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