By Lauren Ohnesorge, Triangle Business Journal (Jan. 16, 2020)
State officials have asked RDU to postpone building a proposed perimeter fence, citing multiple concerns with the project, and said the state is interested in purchasing airport land.
In a letter sent Wednesday to airport officials, an official with the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources says the department is interested in pursuing the purchase of airport property along the proposed fence line, which separates airport land from Umstead State Park. The letter, from Chief Deputy Secretary D. Reid Wilson, also notes “multiple problems” tied to a fence.
The letter is addressed to Michael Landguth, CEO of the RDU Airport Authority. It says that the fence as planned would bisect the Reedy Creek Trail at Umstead State Park in two places. It claims it would be “far too expensive for State Parks to move the trail.”
“By creating a permanent eyesore and marring the look and ‘feel’ of the park, the proposed fence would greatly harm a fundamental purpose of the park, namely to provide public access to a natural setting for people to enjoy nature and improve their physical and mental health,” the letter says. “The degradation of the visitor experience would likely create among trail users an ongoing negative impression of the airport.”
The letter also raises concern that a fence could damage stream banks and water quality, as well as block movements of wildlife. And it also notes a fear that a fence could damage Umstead State Park’s status on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The Department requests that RDU postpone finalization of plans for the fence until those potential alternatives can be more thoroughly considered for long-term implementation or as a 12-18 month pilot project,” the letter adds.
In the meantime, Wilson suggests RDU could support the cost of additional rangers to help combat trespassing. The letter says his department is interested in working with other partners “to pursue a purchase” of what’s know as the “286 property” where many of the trails are located. The tract could then be added as an extension of Umstead Park, and the state and Wake County could work together to manage the trails, Wilson writes.
RDU has said a land sale that creates or expands a state park would jeopardize federal grant funding and is prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration.
At Thursday’s meeting, airport COO Bill Sandifer said the airport would be “open” to leasing land for recreational use, but that the fence plan would not be going away.
Officials have described their meeting last week with state parks officials as constructive.
“RDU Airport Authority and State Parks leadership had a productive meeting on Thursday to discuss a proposed perimeter fence that would enhance airport security, prevent additional environmental damage and help keep trespassers off airport land,” an airport spokeswoman said of the RDU-Parks meeting in an email last week. “The discussions are ongoing and RDU is committed to finding a solution that would not block access to the section of the Umstead State Park multi-use trail that is on airport property.”