CHATHAM – A training session for selectmen and airport commissioners conducted by representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration has prompted questions from an outspoken opponent of skydiving at the town's airport.
David Bixby, a member of the group that is suing the town to block the return of skydiving, questioned why the session was held behind closed doors and whether those attending violated the state's Open Meeting Law by asking too many questions.
“A lot of people have gone to some lengths to hide the content of this meeting (and airport business in general) from the public,” Bixby said in an email to The Chronicle. “One has to wonder why.”
Airport Commission Chairman Peter Donovan said the session was requested by the FAA to educate officials about the grant assurances that are a requirement of federal airport funding. One of those grant assurances requires that airports receiving federal funds allow all general aviation activities, including skydiving. Selectman Dean Nicastro, who also attended, said the three FAA officials who conducted the training session made it clear from the beginning that skydiving would not be part of the presentation.
“They said they didn't want to talk about skydiving and they did not talk about skydiving,” Nicastro said. “The subject of skydiving was not discussed.”
Nicastro said he found the session “very helpful.”
“It was an educational session from my perspective,” he said.
Along with Nicastro, selectmen Cory Metters and Amanda Love attended the Dec. 12 session held at the Depot Road fire station. The full airport commission was also there, according to Principal Projects and Operations Coordinator Terry Whalen. Although those attendees constitute quorums of both boards, Whalen said under the Open Meeting Law, attendance of a quorum at a training program is not a violation of the law if no deliberations take place.
Both Nicastro and Donovan said while questions were asked, no discussions took place at the presentation.
“It was simply an informational PowerPoint presentation,” Donovan said.
Bixby said he doesn't know what was discussed at the session so he as yet has no basis to file an Open Meeting Law complaint. He has filed two public records requests to determine the content of the workshop. He said he had asked that the workshop be videotaped and has received no explanation as to why it was held at the fire station, which does not have videotaping capabilities.
“If no deliberation was to take place, then why exclude the public in the first place from a presentation by the FAA on a topic of widespread interest in Chatham, the grant assurance obligations?” he wrote.
The town recently signed new grant assurances which will last for 20 years, Donovan said. During that period the town must adhere to more than 30 requirements; while it is not likely that the FAA would seek repayment of grant funds – the town has received more than $6 million in federal aviation funds over the past several decades – violation of the grant assurances could mean no future federal funds; meanwhile, he said, the town would have to maintain the airport to federal standards at its own expense.
“That's the real risk to the town,” he said.
The airport receives $150,000 in nonprimary entitled funds from the FAA annually, which can be banked to help pay for future projects. The airport's most recent projects involving federal funds were the construction of a snow removal equipment storage garage and purchase of a bucket loader for snow removal. Donovan said taxiway reconstruction planned in the near future will also be partially funded by federal and state grants.
Bixby is a member of Citizens for a Safe Chatham Airport, which sued the town to prevent skydiving at the George Ryder Road facility. Skydive Cape Cod's contract to operate out of the airport was not renewed by the town in late 2013 after Town Manager Jill Goldsmith cited safety concerns. The FAA, however, said that was a violation of the grant assurances and ordered the town to advertise for skydiving services; two vendors, including Skydive Cape Cod, submitted proposals, but a contract has not been issued due to the lawsuit. In November a Barnstable Superior Court judge denied the town's bid to throw out the suit and allowed it to move forward.