CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Residents of the Five Forks Village and Cascade Creek Communities in Chesterfield County are speaking out against plans to expand the Chesterfield County Airport, a move that they fear could encroach on community property and disrupt outdoor activities.
Through its airport master planning process, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated Chesterfield County Airport as a reliever to Richmond International Airport (RIC). Currently, the county airport provides 5,500 feet of runway space, with build sites and T-hangars available for lease and corporate hangar space.
But during the July 20 Planning Commission meeting, resident Hinson Corprew spoke out in opposition to plans to extend the airport’s runway.
“My house is in the direct flight path of the runway,” he said. “I feel like I’m living in a war zone.”
8News spoke with Steve Clarke, the attorney representing the Five Forks Village Homeowners Association (HOA), who said that the county airport is seeking an avigation easement over a portion of the HOA property in order to extend the runway. An avigation easement is a term describing property rights that the owner of the property conveys to an airport authority, allowing certain activities associated with air flight to happen above the height of the easement.
According to Clarke, that extension coincides with the clubhouse, pool area, tennis courts and playground area of Five Forks Village.
“What the county wants to do is, as part of lengthening the runway, they’re required, basically, by the FAA, to acquire this avigation easement to clear some air space, to take down trees on the HOA’s property, and to allow for the flight of aircrafts at pretty low altitudes over the property there,” Clarke said. “As part of that and in talking with the board members of the Five Forks Village Homeowners Association and some of the homeowners in the community there, it was clear that there’s a lot more opposition to the runway expansion.”
A Chesterfield County spokesperson told 8News that there are plans to extend the runway at the airport from 5,500 feet to 6,300 feet and that the estimated timeline for construction is 2024.
“Folks have shared with me their concerns about kind of more and heavier and noisier and larger aircrafts using the runway,” Clarke said. “I think the purpose of expanding the runway is to allow for bigger aircrafts to use it and make it a more popular destination for all sorts of different types of aircrafts and a lot of those flights will be coming in or taking off kind of directly over the village of the Five Forks community.”
Corprew said that the noise from Chesterfield County Airport is already an issue and he’s concerned it could get worse with the acquisition of this avigation easement.
“Helicopters that are flying over at night, rattling our windows, that’s already an issue,” Corprew said. “The county wants to get an easement from our homeowners association to cut trees down around our clubhouse, which will allow them to fly lower and then also, with the extending of the runway, allow larger planes, which would cause more disruption and noise and interfere with our quiet enjoyment of our property that we pay for, that we taxes on.”
According to Airport Manager Jeremy Wilkinson, the longer runway will allow the airport to accommodate the current and future family of critical aircraft operations at the airport and continue to serve as an economic driver for the county.
The airport master plan notes that the family of critical aircraft is comprised of medium-sized business jets similar to the Hawker 800, Challenger 604 and Gulfstream 200. Wilkinson said that the operational requirements of these aircraft, particularly during inclement weather, require an extension of the runway for optimal safety and efficiency.
“The people that we elect to look out for our best interest don’t have our best interest in mind. It seems like it’s a monetary thing,” Corprew said. “I’m not going to benefit, as a homeowner, from larger planes coming into Chesterfield County Airport, waking my kids up at night, causing them — my 9-year-old son and my 10-year-old daughter — to run in my room because they’re disrupted in their sleep.”
Clarke said that he expects Chesterfield County to file an eminent domain lawsuit, which would move the case to the court system. He said there would then be a trial for a jury to decide how the HOA should be compensated for the airport to have the easement moving forward.
“Ideally, the county would just walk away and we wouldn’t go through this. I think, realistically, we think this expansion is going to happen,” Clarke said. “We want fair compensation, we want to be treated fairly. As far as the impacts to the HOA property, there’s a significant concern because it is a place where there’s a playground and there’s a swimming pool and there’s a lot of outdoor activities.”
The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors is set to consider the exercise of eminent domain for the acquisition of easements for the airport runway extension project at its Wednesday meeting.