Photo by Free Photos on Pixabay.
Currently, the Dane County Regional Airport has space for thirteen planes, and between 2019 and 2020, an all-time high of 1.1 million people used it to fly from Dane County. Michael Riechers is the marketing director for the Dane County Regional Airport. He says pandemic notwithstanding, Dane County’s projected population and economic growth means the airport will need to increase its number of flights, and that’s why they need to add room for more planes.
“This project focuses solely on the passenger terminal, so it doesn’t affect any runways or taxiways or anything like that,” said Riechers. “It gives more parking spaces for airplanes. So right now, we have 13 gates so we can accommodate 13 airplanes, but after the project is completed, we’ll have 16 gates, so it’s almost a 25% increase in our capacity to land and depart planes.”
Riechers also says that the $85 million expansion will be paid by airport revenues, and that it will not cost Dane County taxpayers anything.
But, some residents have concerns. Steve Klafka is an environmental engineer and advocate. He says he’s worried about local control. The airport is within the City of Madison, but managed by the County. According to Klafka, there are reasons why the city ought to have local control.
“Everyone who lives in Madison should have a say on whether the airport expands, because we all are going to be the ones who are going to suffer any ill effects because of it,” said Klafka. “We should decide if there should be an expansion. Perhaps we would not want to expand the airport, because after 80 years, maybe it’s time to move the airport or it’s time to move the airport or it’s time to reduce it’s operations, not expand them.”
Klafka says the expansion also comes with environmental concerns-in particular, PFAS contamination.
PFAS is a group of chemicals found in firefighting foam used by airports, not just to put out fires, but also in training exercises. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, exposure to PFAS in humans can cause increased cholesterol levels, impact infant birth weights, disrupt hormones or the immune system, and potentially cause cancer. PFAS also does not degrade under normal conditions, so once it’s in the environment, it’s there to stay. A well in northeast Madison has been shut down since March of 2019 due to PFAS contamination, and a 2020 study commissioned by the airport itself found a significant presence of PFAS in the soil and groundwater near the fire training areas. Alder Syed Abbas, who represents the district containing the airport, says that he’s concerned about PFAS contamination spreading as a result of the construction moving soil around. He says that he thinks the county should do more testing to make sure that the project is safe, and that the county should look into contaminated groundwater, or plumes.
“We never did a testing of the plumes, how far that contamination went,” said Abbas. “So without doing those type of testing, how could we be sure about any construction? From testing standpoint, we keep doing testing where we are already aware of it, but contamination can travel, so we really need to look into broadening our testing and mitigation policy.”
Airport spokesman Riechers says that all of the soil dug up would remain on site, so there would be no opportunity for the PFAS contamination in the soil to spread. Now that the airport has its license, construction can begin. The airport will stay in service while construction happens. Riechers told the Capital Times yesterday that the project is expected to be done in 2023.
This story has been corrected to reflect correct spelling. It is Michael Riechers, not Michael Reichers.