January 19, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
Pilots and supporters of a general aviation airport that has operated in Baltimore County, Md., since 1942 have launched an effort to resist a county government bid to close the facility.
Essex Skypark, a publicly owned airport southeast of Baltimore, with a 2,084-foot runway and a landing area for seaplanes, faces closure after officials notified tenants of plans to remove the runway and hangars and replant the area with trees, according to a newspaper account.
“Essex Skypark is under serious threat from Baltimore County for eventual closure, but local pilots are rallying to fight this challenge, and AOPA stands with them,” said Greg Pecoraro, AOPA vice president of airports and state advocacy, after attending a recent airport support meeting.
The Essex Skypark Association has launched an online petition, and the Friends of Essex Skypark have created a Facebook page to promote their efforts to save the airport. Airport users are also reaching out to educate local officials on what one airport supporter described on Facebook as “the only small airpark left in Baltimore County.”
The Baltimore Sun reported Jan. 5 that the county, which has owned 500 acres of land that includes the airport since 2000, notified airport tenants in a letter that their five-year lease would not be renewed unless the tenants provided a relocation plan. The county purchased the land from private owners through the Maryland Environmental Trust. The airport association had leased the airpark from those owners before the property changed hands—but officials want to close the facility to improve water quality and restore forestation to the area.
Pilots say their use of the property is protected by an easement assuring that the airport operation continues unless no activity occurs for a year. County officials, however, invoked a technicality in the lease-renewal procedure to force the airport off the premises, said the news account.
On its website, the airpark association listed a variety of aviation businesses that operate from the facility, and described a close-knit aviation community atmosphere.
“It is not uncommon to see pilots and their families putting their time, tools and materials together to maintain and continue the improvements of this special place. The habit of taking care of the property, and constantly working to improve it, has been ingrained in the Essex Skypark community. Essex Skypark is not a drain on the budget and resources of Baltimore County. In fact, the business and private pilot users have made the property a revenue generator for the county,” it said.
Pecoraro noted the airpark’s significance to the area’s aviation history and community. “AOPA will stand with airpark backers and work to support their efforts,” he said.
AOPA’s Central Southwest regional manager recently put GA’s utility to the test with a whirlwind trip covering four states, seven airports, and nine meetings.
Wisconsin’s governor has signed a bill adding aviation to an existing recreational-use statute.
Smith Field in Fort Wayne, Ind., has withstood three separate attacks—in the 1970s, 1990s, and 2002—to close it and redevelop the land. Now, it's thriving.
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