Solbergs Harboring Dump, Hello EPA!

A recent Google Earth image of Solberg Airport reveals a dump alongside one of the old hangars. Has this from Google Earthdumping ground existed since the airport began in 1938? If so we would suspect who knows what nature of environmentally harmful “stuff” pollutes this area. We can see a bunch of tires, a bunch of barrels, containers, unknown orange things and assorted junk.

With the neighboring residences as well as the airport itself drawing water from private wells you have to wonder about the quality of drinking water. Additionally, several streams originate or accept runoff from this area.

Illegal dumping is generally associated with:

  • dumping waste on public or private property that is not licensed or permitted to receive waste
  • dumping waste, without a license or permit, into sewers or waterways, or
  • allowing another to dump waste on one’s land, without being licensed to receive such waste.

So what is the verdict, a dump, licensed, legal or illegal, hazardous?

 

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Development Could Threaten Solberg Balloon Festival

FridayBallooon

Balloons ascended Friday evening for another Balloon Festival at Solberg Airport with the reality that the land around the airport continues to be under threat of development. Readington Township continues to seek preservation that would enable the Balloon Festival to continue. The Solbergs continue their efforts to expand and modernize the airport which would very likely result in the property being developed to an extent that would preclude shutting down airport operations for the time of the festival.

For years residents in the area of Solberg have enjoyed the ascensions morning and evening. The festival itself has transformed over the years from a balloon and aviation related event to a carnival midway and concert event with occasional hot air balloons.

There should be no doubt, however, that the airport expansion documented in the Solberg Airport Master Plan would certainly threaten the ability to continue hosting the balloon festival.

 

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What Has Become of the 1997 Solberg Airport Master Plan

Solberg Airport expansion proponents frequently chide the other side for distributing misinformation. In reality, we believe both the complex nature of the issue coupled with the pro expansion spin originating with the airport’s advocates contributes to a poor understanding of what is really going on.

For example, expansion supporters say the longer runway is to improve safety, but what they neglect to add is that the added margin of safety is for a larger class of corporate jets that require a runway 2,000 feet longer than the existing paved 3,000 feet.

So what has become of the 1997 Solberg Airport Master Plan? In 1999 it was given conditional approval by the FAA, pending a successful environmental assessment. The process of the environmental review was started but never completed.

Today, that same conditionally approved plan remains on file at the New Jersey Department of Transportation, Division of Aeronautics and is publicly referenced on the Aviation Plans and Studies webpage as Solberg-Hunterdon. Although dated, its content is still viable!

While Solberg’s plan is not up to current airport planning standards (AC 150/5070-6B – Airport Master Plans - May 2007 Full document) it has not been revoked and could be updated and become current with minimal effort (see paragraph 202 b).

A recent email comment from an airport expansion supporter demonstrated the extent of the misinformation that is prevalent among this group. He write, “The so-called expansion plan that you keep citing was developed many years ago, not as a proposal of an actual direction, but as a potential the FAA envisioned.”

This statement is incorrect on two counts. First, the Airport Master Planning document, linked above, states in paragraph 104 a, “Airport master plans are prepared to support the modernization or expansion of existing airports or the creation of a new airport. The master plan is the sponsor’s strategy for the development of the airport.” The sponsor is typically the airport’s owner or other entity interested in the airport and, according to the FAA’s directions, the Master Plan is the sponsor’s strategy for development. Second, the FAA does not impose its vision of an airport’s potential on a sponsor. Paragraph 205 discusses Master Plan Review by the FAA and states, “The FAA reviews all elements of the master plan to ensure that sound planning techniques have been applied. However, the FAA only approves the following elements of airport master plans: 1) Forecasts of Demand and 2) Airport Layout Plan (ALP).”

Thus, according to the FAA’s directions for Master Planning it is a proposal for an actual development direction as envisioned by the sponsors, the airport owners in the case of Solberg.

Finally, the Solberg Airport Master Plan is supplemented by an ALP, a document that shows the current airport configuration and development proposals. To be clear, the ALP is a high level plan for the airport’s facilities including runways, taxiways, air-side parking, air-side buildings (hangars, maintenance, etc.). It is not a construction detail document but contains sufficient information to locate facilities and define the basic information for such things as runway length and width.

Just as the Solberg Master Plan would require and update so would the ALP. Both of these updates are minor efforts and would bring the documents and plans up to current standards, very likely maintaining the existing development targets of a 5,000 foot primary runway and a 3,750 foot secondary runway.

Should you be tempted to believe that airport expansion at Solberg is no longer of interest consider the statement by Solberg attorney Laurence Orloff in a June 2014 article in General Aviation News where he states,  “They (the Solbergs) want to be able to expand and modernize the airport…” and the ONLY plan is on file with the New Jersey DOT.

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Reinvigorated!

In May of 2006 Readington Township voters approved a $21.7 million bond ordinance authorizing funds intended to protect lands surrounding Solberg Airport from development and preserve the airport itself by a vote of 3,474 “Yes” to 2,777 “No”. Subsequent to that authorization, the governing body authorized acquisition of some property and development rights in September.

In the almost eight years since then public involvement has waned and the activity has moved to various legal actions; direct negotiations, hearings, appeals, etc. under the assumption that the decision would ultimately come from the courts. Today the actual trial of the action started so long ago is underway while many people are under the mistaken belief that the issue was long ago resolved. It is not resolved!

Further, recent activity by supporters of the airport and expansion have cast a perception that sentiment has shifted to favoring their position. Our opinion is that noting could be further from the truth. We believe that a vast majority of Readington’s citizens continue to oppose the airport expansion plans but do not have access to accurate information related to the issue.

In the spirit of this sites intent to educate the community on issues related to the airport and expansion plans we will be reinvigorating our posting activity with intent to assist in understanding the implications of an expanded Solberg Airport. Please bookmark this page and return often to see what is new! Also, this site now supports a Contact page for those interested in offering their opinion.

 

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Solberg Appeal Will Result In Trial

Article from Hunterdon Democrat LINK

Solberg Airport issues should be sorted out at a trial, Superior Court rules
By Frank Mustac
A trial is needed to resolve the many issues between Readington Township and Solberg Airport. That’s the thrust of a 67-page ruling from the Superior Court Appellate Division.The ruling from the Superior Court Appellate Division has reversed the ruling of a trial judge over Readington Township’s condemnation of land surrounding Solberg Airport and development rights to the airport itself.

Bill McGrath, an attorney with Smith, Stratton in Princeton and a township resident not associated with the litigation, said the opinion has the effect of ordering a trial on “all the issues” in the dispute between the township and the Solberg family that owns the airport.

The decision is a mixed bag. While it affirms the right of the township to zone and acquire the land surrounding the airport, it also says that state law does not give the township authority to acquire the development rights to the airport itself, McGrath said. The opinion also states that the township’s actions are unlikely to “achieve the stated purposes” of preserving the airport, in part because “the fact that the facility will remain under the ownership of the Solbergs casts doubt on its post-condemnation survival… It appears that the decision to condemn development rights to the airport was tainted by the township’s desire to control airport operations.” It says “ultimate authority” over airport operations rests with the state, not the township.

The ruling also sides with the Solberg family over the township’s claim that they owe property taxes on the airport dating back to 2006.

“This means that the condemnation is not likely to be upheld on the airport itself, or land within the ’safety zone’” surrounding the airport, McGrath said. “The opinion sends a message to the trial judge.”

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Appellate Court Hears Oral Argments in Solberg Appeal

After more than a year the appeal of the judgement in favor of Readington Township has been heard in oourt. The three judge panel reviewed the case as presented at the original trial where the Solberg’s attorney argued the taking was “pretextual”.

One judge actually asked, “Let me understand. Don’t preservations normally result because people want to stop development? So why is the current case pretextual?”

The written judgement of the court is expected in four to six weeks and is expected to be posted at www.judiciary.state.nj.us.

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Court Finds In Favor Of Readington Township’s Battle

After more than a year the Superior Corut of New Jersey has upheld Readington Township’s Condemnation Complaint filed September 15, 2006. In doing so, the order states that “The Township is hereby vested with the right to the immediate exclusive possession of and title to the interests in the property described in the Declaration of Taking.

With Readington’s preservation of the property surrounding the airport as open space, development of any kind is precluded forever. The airport, remaining under the ownership of the Solberg family, has the ability to modernize and is encouraged to enhance facilities within constraints of the Townships Airport Zoning Ordinance.

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Supreme Court Refuses Readington’s Request To Certify Lower Court Decision

By not acting on Readington Township’s request to certify the decision of the appellate court, the State Supreme Court lets stand the ruling that will likely send the dispute to trial for resolution.

Hunterdon County Democrat article LINK

State Supreme Court refuses to hear Readington Twp.’s appeal in Solberg Airport condemnation battle
By Curtis Leeds / Hunterdon County Democrat

READINGTON TWP. — The state Supreme Court has refused to hear the township’s appeal of its case seeking to condemn the land surrounding Solberg Airport and acquire the development rights to the airport itself. That means, at least for now, that last year’s opinion from the state Appellate Division stands.

In the appellate ruling, a three-judge panel found that the contested 726 acres should not be treated equally. The land consists of seven lots divided into four tracts, and the court found that while the township has the right to zone and acquire the land surrounding the airport, authority over the airport and the safety zone around it rests with the state, which has “ultimate authority over aeronautical issues.”

The appellate opinion, which said that the township’s decision to condemn the airport’s development rights appeared to be “tainted by the township’s desire to control airport operations,” questioned what the condemnation would accomplish but found it “not improper” even if the motives “might be suspect.”

The opinion said some aspects of the case, such as exactly how much land the township can acquire through the condemnation, should be “determined after a full hearing.”

Resident Bill Lewis, a long-time critic of the condemnation, said his message to township officials is, “You lost. You were wrong. So cut it out” and end the appeals.

But Mayor Gerard Shamey said it’s not that simple. “No one has won or lost yet,” he said. “We’re still entitled to our day in court, with the Appellate Division opinion as our guide.” He said Township Committee will discuss Tuesday’s court opinion with its attorney and learn what it will mean to the township’s case.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Shamey said. He added that he thinks it’s been “lost in the sauce” that the township’s objectives “were always consistent with preserving open space and preserving the airport… we’re the only one that’s done something to preserve the airport.”

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