Wetlands disturbance issue puts Laconia Airport safety fence project on hold

GILFORD — A $700,000 perimeter fence project at Laconia Municipal Airport is in a holding pattern following the denial of the airport's application for a wetlands disturbance permit issued by the state Wetlands Bureau of the Department of Environmental Services.
The project calls for installation of a 15,800-foot-long, eight-foot high chain link fence around the airport and was the primary recommendation of the study performed last year by the USDA Wildlife Service, according to airport manager Diane Terrill.
She said that the fence would have barbed wire outriggers and four-foot chain link fabric which would be buried at a 45 degree angle below ground to prevent undermining of the fence by burrowing mammals such as beavers and woodchucks.
She said that the major objections from the wetlands bureau appear to relate to the 3,080 feet of the fence that impact wetlands around the airport.
''It's a highly technical document and I'm no wetlands scientist. But we didn't expect this outcome and were looking to react appropriately. From our standpoint it's an issue of human safety and we think that should be the priority,'' said Terrill.
She said that the Laconia Airport Authority is working with Steven Smith and Associates to amend its permit application and address the objections raised by the Wetlands Bureau and hasn't yet settled on what it will propose for a solution.
Terrill said that one suggested path forward is just building whatever portion of the fence is allowed.
''But to not enclose the airfield completely would be negligent. This is more than a permitting issue, it's also about public safety,'' she said.
The fence will impact wetlands along the south side of the property next to Route 11, around the east end of the property adjacent to Gunstock River and along the north side if the property adjacent to Meadowbrook Lane. The total length of fence that impacts wetland is 3,080 linear feet of conventional wetland and 2,096 linear feet of prime wetland. Seven different areas of wetland impact would be necessary to complete the fence installation.
Cooper-Terrill said the fence is designed to keep wildlife from straying on to the runway and potentially causing a collision with the aircraft that are landing or taking off. She said burrowing animals like rabbits, moles and mice are often preyed upon by larger animals like bobcats and coyotes, which also can stray on to the airport's runways to chase their prey.
She also said Canadian geese, turkey and ducks are a significant problem but not one that can be addressed by a fence.
A report completed last year indicated "aggressive harassment" like pyrotechnics, propane cannons, and electronic scarecrows can be utilized to reduce birds in the area.
It is not the first time that the airport and the Wetlands Bureau have been at odds over issues regarding wetlands around the airport.
In April of 2006, when wetlands issues imperiled an $8.1 million federally-funded runway extension and repaving program at the airport, the N.H. Wetlands Council issued a declaratory ruling sought by the Wetlands Bureau and the airport that in the case under consideration issues of public safety superseded the need for preservation of prime wetlands.
The project affected 13 acres of wetland and as a result an agreement reached between the Wetlands Bureau and the airport some 143 acres of non-runway access property on airport authority land was placed under permanent conservation easement.