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Selectmen want to size up use of Worcester airport

LEICESTER— Selectmen want to know how any possible change in use of the Worcester Regional Airport site will affect the town of Leicester, where more than half of the airport is located.

Selectman Stanley A. Zagorski said at the board’s meeting Monday that he is concerned about news articles about the possibility of discontinuing use of the site for an airport and converting it to other purposes.

“I would like to see our town administrator complete a review of the original transaction as to the ownership of the land if it reverts to something other than an airport or if the ownership changes,” Mr. Zagorski said. “I would like to know what’s going to happen for the town of Leicester if that occurs.”

Albert B. Southwick, well-known as a student of local history, said in a recent Sunday Telegram column that he can recall when the site was occupied by the U.S. Army as an encampment for Company B. He said the city took over the Worcester portion of the site for an airport in the mid-1940s, but didn’t take the Leicester portion until about 1961, when the east-west runway was extended.

“As you know, three-quarters of the airport now is in Leicester, so with the talk of freight going up there and new talk about casinos in the area, I just want to put Leicester’s stake in the ground as to us knowing where we stand as far as ownership and rights are concerned,” Mr. Zagorski said.

Douglas A. Belanger, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, agreed. He suggested that Town Administrator Robert Reed use the town’s e-mail contact with the Worcester city manager’s office as part of doing the review.

Mr. Zagorski also brought up the issue of wind turbines for the consideration of his board and the School Committee Monday night.

He said the town has just gone through an energy audit by the Mass. Technology Collaborative, which showed, among other things, that Leicester has two sites that might be considered for wind turbines to provide electrical energy for town buildings.

“The two sites are at Memorial School and Leicester High School,” he said. “We have now been asked by the state to prioritize the site we want them to study further to determine just how much energy a wind turbine would provide.

The initial energy audit, he said, said the high school site had the highest wind rating in town and the Memorial School site was the second highest.

“Pros for the Memorial School site are that the electricity at that site could go directly into the school, satisfying its electricity needs and allowing us to sell any excess power back to the grid,” he said. “The other pro for the Memorial site is that there aren’t many houses up there and fewer people apt to complain about the turbine.”

In favor of the high school site, he said, a turbine could supply electricity for four town buildings – the high, middle and primary schools and the Senior Center. However, a residential neighborhood is right next door and the turbine would be in the flight path of Worcester Regional Airport.

Mr. Zagorski said the additional study, run by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, would provide specifics on how much the wind turbine installation at the specified site could benefit the town, but it would in no way provide state approval for the actual project. Selectmen will vote to pick their preferred site at their meeting next Monday; the School Committee will also pick a preferred site at its next meeting Sept. 24.

By Betty Lilyestrom

Worcester Telegram & Gazette

12 September 2007