Airport sues over Obama visit
Sep 28, 2011 7:13pm
(NECN: Peter Howe, Marlborough, Mass.) You'd think for a small airport owner, there'd be no more exciting honor than to have Marine One land with the president of the United States.
But for Bob Stetson, it's been a 16-months-and-counting disaster.
It was April 1, 2010, when President Obama landed at the single-runway airport Stetson owns here, taking a break during a fundraising trip to Boston to check in on Massachusetts emergency management officials at their Framingham bunker as they worked to respond to devastating floods. Stetson got a last-minute call from the U.S. Navy asking if he could accommodate six helicopters for a "VIP visit" -- which turned out to be President Obama with a full motorcade full of armored limousines and emergency vehicles.
"As I saw the vehicles come through the gate, drive out onto the runway, I said, 'Oh boy, this isn't going to be good,''' Stetson recalled in an interview Wednesday.
At that time of year, the airport was waterlogged, with a mushy, muddy base of soil, and Stetson himself would never drive cars or trucks onto the runway in early spring because of the damage it could do to a runway built to accommodate 2,000-pound planes.
"The heavy vehicles went out there, they crushed the runway structure for about one half the length of the runway, and I need to get it fixed,'' Stetson said, adding that engineers have estimated it will cost $675,000 to repair the potholes, dips, and ruts left by the Secret Service motorcade.
Marlboro Airport (spelled differently from the town's formal name) remains safe to use, under normal conditions, for the roughly 1,000 takeoffs and landings it sees each month, but it's not safe enough to meet Federal Aviation Administration inspectors' standards.
"A pilot that's flying responsibly and keeps his airplane in the middle of the runway as he should is not going to have a problem,'' Stetson said. "On the other hand, if there were a situation -- crosswinds or temporary loss of control or something like that -- and the airplane got caught up in that depression, it could throw it out of control.''
Marlboro Airport opened in 1922 and got its first paved runway in 1962 -- and while cracks have been sealed and repairs made, what's there today is the same 49-year-old pavement that was first laid at the airport. So the last thing Stetson needed or could handle were the dozen-plus vehicles, including a 44-ton truck, that commandeered the runway.
After Obama left and the damage his trip left behind was apparent, Stetson appealed, in vain, to state and federal management officials for financial help to repair the pavement and turf damage. He then turned to the Navy, who promptly explained to him that the Secret Service had controlled the motorcade that drove over the runway.
(Stetson agrees that the Marine Corps choppers left no damage behind, just the ground vehicles.)
After months of runaround, "the Secret Service denied my claim and suggested that if I was unhappy with that decision that I should file a lawsuit in federal court,'' Stetson said.
And that's what he finally did, on Tuesday in U.S. court in Worcester, seeking $676,000 from the government to repair the damage.
Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Edwin M. Donovan said by e-mail from Washington that the agency is not commenting or responding to Stetson "because it's pending litigation.''
Stetson mainly is disgusted it's come to this, that he has to go to court to get visitors who damaged the airport to take responsibility and pay for fixing it. "No, I don't like doing it,'' Stetson said. "I would have far preferred to have sat down with folks and worked it out informally, gentleman to gentleman. I was denied that opportunity.''
And while he keeps a handsome framed photo of Marine One signed by the crew that piloted it to Marlboro Airport back on April Fools Day of 2010, one more thing that eats at Stetson: No one from the White House ever called or wrote to say, thank you for letting us use your airport.
With videographer David Jacobs
video on pagehttp://www.necn.com/09/28/11/Airport-su ... eedID=4206