Originally created 10/01/97

Not for the birds

After some bickering, the Augusta Commission and Bush Field officials are to be commended for coming together in time to keep on track two very important projects for our community: the $10 million natural wastewater treatment project in the wetlands adjacent to the airport and the airport's $22 million renovation plan.

At issue was the Augusta Aviation Commission's application for the $1.1 million Federal Aviation Administration grant, due yesterday, to start the first leg of airport refurbishment. The application required city commissioners' approval, but they were rightfully worried that the FAA would dun them to return the grant if nearby wetlands became a bird sanctuary.

This was a legitimate concern because, as airport director Al McDill readily admits, the number of incidents of birds being sucked into jet engines at Bush Field has increased just in recent months.

But the city is hardly in a position to call off its wastewater project to accommodate the airport. It is under federal court order to comply with Clean Water Act standards by 2001 or face accumulated fines of $500,000. The city is even hastening to beat that deadline, so if complications develop they can be worked out before the levies take effect.

The stakes for Bush Field were just as high. The planned $22 million renovation, which includes adding a runway into the constructed wetlands area, would be off to a terrible start if city commissioners shot down the grant request by not signing on.

At the last moment, a Commission majority agreed to OK the grant if the Aviation Commission -- and not the city -- pays back the grant if the FAA balks. The next task is to continue this cooperation to ensure the FAA won't make a pay-back request.

This means undertaking measures to discourage birds from populating the wetlands to the point of creating air travel hazards. After all, expanded wetlands are not for the birds -- they're a byproduct of the wastewater plant.


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