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Possible cement tower at airport sparks big debate

April 04, 2002|BY SARAH MULLIN

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Members of the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority discussed Thursday the possible impact of a 400-foot tower that may be built by Capital Cement near the airport.

Opinions on the issue varied.

Airport manager Bill Walkup said the cement company sent a preconstruction notice to the Federal Aviation Administration last year and the airport authority is waiting to find out whether or not the FAA will label the tower a hazard.

The preheating tower heats up the crushed stone before it goes to the kiln, said Bruce Jolly, vice president of finance for Capital Materials Corporation.

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Jolly said a tower is a common fixture at modern cement facilities and the average height is about 400 feet.

"We have a relatively old plant and most of the equipment was installed 40 years ago. It is necessary to update the equipment with technological changes," he said.

The company signed an agreement to be bought by ESSROC Cement Corp., a division of the Italian-based Italcementi Group, in March.

Jolly said the construction of the tower is contingent on the federal approval of the agreement with the Italian company and ESSROC's desire to build it.

"Everything is preliminary at this point," he said.

Jolly said the company has filed permit applications with the West Virginia Division of Air Quality and a notice of proposed construction with the FAA regarding the tower.

John Collins, a member of the authority, said the FAA does not have the power to prevent the construction, but local government does.

Berkeley County Commissioner Robert Burkhart said the commission is aware of the issue. He said Capital Cement is a major employer in the area, so it is important to work with the company.

"It doesn't need to be that high," Jeff Grove, owner of property at the airport, said of the tower. "Horizontal construction is always cheaper than vertical."

Walkup said the effects of the tower are all speculation at this point. He said the tower may affect instrument landings, which are used in foul weather when visibility is poor.

"A projected obstruction will make the plane come in at a higher angle, which increases the danger," Walkup said.

The minimum height of the circling patterns used when a plane approaches the runway may have to be raised 120 feet, Collins said.

He said his "educated guess" is that the FAA will consider the tower a hazard.

Walkup said the proposed tower is located to the right of the airport, so it should not affect civilian flight traffic.

Former military pilot Bob Sagers said he doesn't see a practical impact on the airport's operation.

He said there are many high-rises surrounding airports in other locations and there hasn't been a problem.

Col. Jesse Thomas, commander of the 167th Airlift Wing of the West Virginia Air National Guard, said in a phone interview it is never desirable to have high obstacles near an airport.

The Air National Guard has 12 aircraft at the airport.

Thomas said the tower may also affect the guard's combat readiness training.

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