At the October 19th Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting, project engineers presented the current draft of Trenton-Mercer Airport’s (TTN) Master Plan and Environmental Impact Analysis, to allow for airport expansion. Approximately 100 members of the public were in attendance, as well as the TTN Airport Manager Melinda Montgomery, Mercer County Deputy Administrator Aaron Watson, and consultants from McFarland Johnson, HMMH, C&S Engineers, and Urban Engineers.
TTN, owned and operated by Mercer County, has its highest users coming from Mercer and Somerset Counties in New Jersey and Bucks County in Pennsylvania. It is one of the few airports in the region that can accommodate medium- and large-sized business jets, as well as two airline carriers (Frontier and Allegiant). To better manage a projected 17.8% increase in total flights (slide 5) over the next 20 years, the airport’s terminal will be expanded and runways made safer.
Under the Master Plan, the overall airport terminal footprint will be increased from 24,780 sq. ft. to 100,000-125,000 sq. ft. to accommodate a projected increase in use over the next 20 years. Included in the plan are: (1) five additional ticket counter positions; (2) a 500% linear foot increase in the baggage claim area; (3) four additional rental car agencies; (4) a 160% increase in restroom area; (5) a 172% increase in the passenger holding area; (6) a 135% increase in space for the public lobby; and (7) one additional passenger screening lane. To improve overall safety, the taxiway will be altered to lessen pilot confusion. Runways will not be extended.
The Environmental Impact Analysis was presented by C&S Engineers who identified aircraft obstructions and mitigation plans for them. Identified obstructions include residential homes and trees off runways 6, 24, and 34 (slides 4-8). Homes in what is called the Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) will be demolished, if owners choose a voluntary buyout by the County and 180 trees that breach Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) established airspace surface will be taken down as part of a Navigation Easement. Reimbursement will be given to the tree’s owner if a loss or diminished value due to the removal is found. From the Analysis, an Environmental Assessment (EA) will soon be created and released to the public in February for review and comment, followed by a public hearing in March, finalization in April, and by May, the FAA will have completed its review.
During the meeting’s public comment period, several members of the public voiced support of the terminal upgrades, but many more against. Those in support were pleased that the terminal was getting a badly needed facelift. Those against, voiced frustration over noise they assumed would worsen over the next 20 years due to an increase in low flying planes over residential areas, as well as concern for homeowners in the RPZ that choose not to sell their properties.
Homeowners in the RPZ asked if the County would use eminent domain to force them to sell. Deputy Administrator Aaron Watson said they would not. It is a voluntary project and the County is only required to make the attempt to create safer RPZ pathways. No solution was given to residents concerned about the value of their homes if they choose not to sell.
In an attempt to understand why planes that used to fly higher over fields have been flying low over residential areas for the past two years, frustrated residents of Ewing and Hopewell Townships, asked questions to project engineers and TTN representatives. They wanted to know why the flight patterns had changed and if they could be changed back. They also wanted to know why their noise reports were not being addressed. TTN representatives did not respond and project engineers said that they would follow the Master Plan, of which the Noise Study is a part, and said that “we’ll go where the analysis takes us.”
However, Yardley, PA resident Robert White, a retired pilot for the Air Force and current airline pilot, stated that he has followed noise mitigation procedures worldwide at small and large airports. He explained that noise mitigation procedures “are tailored for specific airports to reduce the noise impact on the surrounding communities while not stifling operations. The Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 150, Airport Noise Compatibility Planning process is such that the FAA works with the airport authority to implement a noise abatement program. The FAA studies it, takes community input, works with the airport authority as to not stifle operations to implement an effective noise abatement program. We don’t need to wait for anything before asking for FAA assistance to implement a program.” He then asked, “Why has the airport not done this? Will it commit to doing it?” Mercer County Deputy Administrator Aaron Watson responded, “We will certainly take that under consideration when the time comes.”
Going forward, the public will have additional opportunities to weigh into the project. By emailing email@example.com, residents will be put on a mailing address and given notice of future public meetings addressing the Master Plan. Additionally, further comments on the draft Plan can be directed to that email address as well as to Trenton Mercer Airport, Master Plan, Urban Engineers, Inc., 530 Walnut St., 7th Floor, Philadelphia, PA.