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Owner Wants Mt. Snow Airport Expanded For Private Jets

VPR/Susan Keese

Jim Barnes purchased the Mt Snow Airport on June 6th.  Barnes, who also owns the Hermitage Inn and Haystack Ski Area, says expanding the airport will bring more visitors, more often, to the Mount Snow region and the Deerfield Valley.

Barnes bought Haystack in 2011 and revived an earlier plan to turn the defunct Wilmington resort into an exclusive, members-only club.

He established a trail, and lift service between the ski area and the Hermitage Inn. He plans to build high priced homes, a hotel and other amenities on the property.

“The folks that have joined the club over the last two seasons number almost 200,” he says. “And they’re now starting to buy real estate on the property.”

He hopes to extend the airport runway so that private jets can land there. He says that will benefit his clients and the Mt. Snow region.

“The airport’s an important asset to the Deerfield Valley,” Barnes says. “It’s a real link to get more potential second- home owners and travelers to our valley. And right now it doesn’t work.”

The airport hasn’t been officially closed -- a few area second-home owners use it. But the online FAA information for pilots reports that its runway is deteriorating and encroaching trees make it unsafe.

The previous owner, Bob North, died in a plane crash in 2006, while attempting to land at the tiny airport.

Barnes considers it unusable.

“So our plan’s really a two phase plan,” he says. First, to resurface the existing runway and then fix up the terminal buildings and hangars that exist. And then to expand the runway to its original permitted length of 4,400 feet. Once that is complete, then lighter jets as well as small prop planes will be able to land there.”

To do that, Barnes will need a new permit under Act 250, Vermont’s land use law.

In the meantime, he is permitted to do maintenance work. He hopes to have the runway re-paved in time to fly guests in for a series of midweek golf outings this summer.

Wilmington town manager Scott Murphy says the local reaction has been mixed.

“I’ve heard from both sides of the fence,” Murphy says. “Some people feel it would be a great economic driver for the valley. The other side says we don’t want large jets flying in here and causing all kinds of noise and disturbances.”

Murphy says the town hasn’t yet taken a position on the proposal.

The project will also have to deal with the town of Dover in the permitting process. The airport is situated in both towns, although most of the proposed expansion is in Wilmington.

Barnes is also trying to buy 55 house lots surrounding the airport. The lots were acquired by the town of Wilmington through tax sales.

Barnes says the land would provide a buffer and allow more runway space. The airport is known for its strong winds. Barnes says the added space will make it safer.

Susan Keese was VPR's southern Vermont reporter, based at the VPR studio in Manchester at Burr & Burton Academy. After many years as a print journalist and magazine writer, Susan started producing stories for VPR in 2002. From 2007-2009, she worked as a producer, helping to launch the noontime show Vermont Edition. Susan has won numerous journalism awards, including two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for her reporting on VPR. She wrote a column for the Sunday Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. Her work has appeared in Vermont Life, the Boston Globe Magazine, The New York Times and other publications, as well as on NPR.
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