HLRA Community Meeting on JRB Willow Grove reuse

Wednesday night took quite a bit of discipline on my part to forego the Philadelphia Flyers Game 3 playoff matchup and attend the Horsham Land Reuse Authority meeting soliciting community input to reuse options for JRB Willow Grove.  But with the BRAC closing of the Willow Grove airbase – just 1/2 mile from my front door – and its 892 acres of such critical importance to the Horsham community, it was a difficult but easy choice.

And yes, I know that last part sounds a bit contradictory.  But a Flyers fan LIVES for hockey in April!

The meeting itself was very emotional, given the Horsham residents overwhelming opposition to having a commercial airport in its midst.  Emotional speeches have both positive and negative effects however.  For one, it is essential that Horsham residents understand the threat to their quality of life an airport and its proponents represent.  But once the acrimony and emotion reaches a certain level, it in effect WORKS AGAINST the community’s interests in doing what is necessary.

In other words, the emotional reactions to a potential commercial air operation distracts the Horsham community from what must be done to prevent such an airport from becoming the only viable option. 

This was a point – I think – lost on many who showed up Wednesday night.  Too much time and energy was wasted on stating and re-stating the collective view that a commercial airport was absolutely unwelcomed.  Too little time and energy went into the objective exercise, allowing citizens to put forth what they want to see at the current JRB Willow Grove site.

Yes, most of us don’t want the airport.  But there are people from outside the Horsham community who do want an airport there; and they possess the motivation, organization, money, and power to make every effort to get what they want.  These are people who have the means to own or to charter private planes and corporate jets.  So to think they could not successfully overcome community resistance through political maneuvering, power brokering, or outright corruptive influence is to fatally underestimate our opposition.

In short, posting No Airport in Horsham lawn signs and making pithy speeches at HLRA meetings will not ensure that Horsham voices will be heard or – more importantly – listened to.  We MUST come up with a workable community-based alternative, strong enough to eliminate the potential for a private/commercial airport.

Now, many adjacent township and regional neighbors might be a little put off – even angry – at my parochial Horsham approach to this discussion.  But my point-of-view here is based of these facts: 

  • Horsham taxpayers will end up paying for the maintenance and operation of whatever ends up occupying the airbase property.  No one else.  This MUST be the BASIC ASSUMPTION for every Horsham resident.  Regardless of whatever potential county, state or federal financing or solutions are offered, rest assured it would never be enough to maintain the property in perpetuity.
  • Yes, commercial aircraft will fly over the homes of those in Upper Moreland, Upper Dublin, Warminster, Warrington, Montgomeryville, etc., etc.  But they will not fly as low or as loud anywhere else but in Horsham. 
  • The interests of our regional neighbors (jobs, convenience, county and state tax revenues, commercial interests) will be – at times – in direct conflict with the interests of Horsham community life.
  • Horsham MUST CONTROL the decision-making apparatus that federal law dictates belongs to the SOLE Land Reuse Authority (LRA) to file for control of the BRAC disposal process for the airbase site.  To lose that control means loss of all control!
  • And finally, I doubt a single one of these neighbors would ever offer up any significant financial assistance (i.e. tax dollars) to Horsham Township in order to ameliorate any potential financial impact to Horsham taxpayers!    

In effect, Horsham residents must put aside the concerns of other communities, townships, counties and states.  They simply DON’T LIVE HERE!  And they certainly don’t PAY to live here! 

I plan to post several more discussions on the details and developments in this ongoing JRB Willow Grove saga.  And I will not pretend to speak for all my neighbors or those living in Horsham whom I have never met.  But allow me to put forth MY OBJECTIONS to a commercial airport or as it’s referred to by those who champion it: Pitcairn Aviation Business Center.

  • Regardless of how limited in scope or restricted in operating hours, once you allow commercial, private or semi-private aviation at a site, you leave the door open to all forms of future potential aviation interests, be they private, commercial or governmental. 
  • I spent about 30 years living a stone’s throw away from North(east) Philadelphia Airport.  I saw it grow from a sleepy muni-airport to a regional hub for corporate air services, even a helicopter maintenence and repair facility.  I am convinced the only factor preventing its use as full-service commercial airline facility or cargo distribution center was the length of its runway!  This would not be a limiting factor at the JRB Willow Grove site!
  • Once the above happens, you – as a resident and taxpayer – lose all control over the site’s future operations and management.
  • No one, who supports usage of the JRB Willow Grove site as an airport has yet – to my knowledge – explained in detail how the proposed airport will be funded in staff, management, or operations without the involvement of commercial aviation enterprise.
  • Indications are that any federal funding for airport operations REQUIRE that said airport operate 24 hours a day/7 days a week/365 days a year!
  • It is a REGIONALLY ACKNOWLEDGED FACT that Philadelphia International Airport is one of the nation’s busiest; operating in the densest airspace in the United States; and currently is in the process of exercising eminent domain power (through the City of Philadelphia) to remove Tinicum Township homes from adjacent land to add and extend runways.  It is no stretch of the imagination to conclude that – at some point – the FAA or some other regional/national authority will be looking for other sites to use in lessening the load at PHL.
  • As with the recent attempt by Governor Rendell to attract Teva Pharmaceuticals, I doubt any sizable commercial entity – be it local or international – would be interested in the JRB Willow Grove site without the promise of using its aviation facilities.  With respect to the failed Teva exercise, you only need know that such commodities are not moved from Point A (manufacture) to Point B (consumer) – especially internationally – by slow boats.  

One argument I won’t make is the potential for an air crash and its resulting death and destruction.  Since these occurrences are rare, the argument will fail to gain traction or sympathy from those with the power and inclination to help those seeking an airport. 

Please make sure to keep abreast of developments by subscribing to the HLRA website’s automatic update feature.

More is definitely to come here!  Subscribe if you want to learn more.

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