Airport, townships at odds over rule

MARTINSBURG – The Altoona-Blair County Airport solicitor said he doesn’t see any risk of liability for the airport if municipalities decline to follow through with adopting an ordinance recognizing approach zones around an airport.

If an airplane crashes in the approach zone, in a township that took no action to define that area and regulate construction height, then the liability would fall to that township, airport solicitor David Pertile said.

The subject came up during a recent airport authority meeting, after Taylor and Huston township supervisors rejected a proposed ordinance and after a public hearing in North Woodbury Township.

In those townships, supervisors questioned the need to adopt rules concerning building height when they have no means of enforcing such rules. The requirement came about because of a state Supreme Court ruling and through a Federal Aviation Administration directive.

“Some local municipalities believe the Altoona-Blair County Airport is behind this push,” Manager Tim Hite said. “They blame the authority, but it’s the FAA.”

Because of the requirement, the airport authority secured a grant to help cover the expense of drafting an ordinance that could be shared by the municipalities.

On behalf of the authority, the Blair County Planning Commission handled development of the maps, not only for the Altoona-Blair County Airport but also for the smaller Blue Knob and Cove Valley airports. The planning commission distributed the maps, along with proposed ordinances, to 13 municipalities showing land within an airport approach zone.

Pertile said he thinks the risk of not adopting the maps and the ordinances with height restrictions will fall exclusively to a municipality.

While the state might consider withholding a township’s liquid fuel dollars because of its lack of action, Hite said he thinks liability is the bigger risk.

“If something bad happens … they’re in the crosshairs,” Hite said.

The chance of something bad happening, however, may also be subject to debate.

When Blair Township leaders considered the ordinance for adoption, they concluded that nobody is going to build a structure high enough to reach into the small zone identified in the approach to the Blue Knob airport. They unanimously approved the ordinance and expect to have advertising and related costs reimbursed through the grant the airport authority secured.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.