Small landing strip creates a big buzz

As Marshfield updates its airport, neighbors worry

A jet approaches Marshfield Airport over the Bass Creek wetlands.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
A jet approaches Marshfield Airport over the Bass Creek wetlands.

MARSHFIELD — Noise, fumes, and environmental trouble — those are just the start of the problems some neighbors of the town-owned Marshfield Airport see with the runway reconstruction now underway.

Planned for more than a decade, the $15 million project will lengthen the airport’s only runway to 3,300 feet from 3,000 and widen it by 25 feet.

Local officials say the general aviation airport needs a safer runway that complies with federal standards, but neighbors argue the work has degraded its residential surroundings. And they worry the worst is yet to come – that larger planes could soon use the airport, despite the Airport Commission’s insistence to the contrary.


“They’re doing a lot of damage to the neighborhood and the environment,” said Joe Pecevich, who lives on Wilson Road, near the northeast side of the airport. He said trees near Plymouth Avenue have been completely cleared, dramatically increasing noise and odors in the residential area.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Residents have formed a group called Marshfield Citizens Against Airport Pollution, and a website,, and they started a Facebook page Jan. 28 that had 94 likes as of Tuesday.

The runway has not been rebuilt since its construction in 1968, according to airport manager David Dinneen. With the construction, it will be moved about 190 feet southwest due to the presence of wetlands. Lighting and navigation systems will be replaced.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Residents Hugh Beagan and Joe Pecevich, who both question airport expansion, examine area maps

Residents object to a change regarding how the airport will stabilize the runway on the soft peat beneath. The airport is using wooden pilings treated with chromated copper arsenate. The previous plan called for sheet pilings – thin sheets of steel that form a continuous barrier, behind which the soft peat would be removed and replaced with more stable material.

Hugh Beagan, a 10th Road resident, said that although wooden pilings treated with the same substance are used for docks, he believes installing a large number of the pilings in an area that lacks free-flowing water poses an environmental risk from chemical seepage.


Foster Avenue resident John Savini said that for anyone to suggest that the treated pilings would have no more environmental effect than inert fill “cuts against common sense.”

“It feels an awful lot like a lie,” he said.

Chromated copper arsenate was once used in standard pressure-treated lumber, but today, it is usually not sold for homeowner use.

David L Ryan/Globe Staff
Marshfield Airport manager David Dinneen.

A brochure from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission indicates that most residential use of the preservative ended voluntarily in 2003 at the request of manufacturers. According to the brochure, the action came after the federal government received several petitions seeking a ban on its use in playground equipment because of the risk of exposure to arsenic, which can increase the risk of some types of cancer.

Jay Wennemer, Marshfield conservation agent, said in an interview that the substance can still be used by commercial builders, particularly for docks and piers. Marshfield routinely approves such uses, he said.


Further, he said driving wooden pilings into the ground disturbs the earth less than using sheet pilings and the accompanying fill. The Conservation Commission does not have a problem with the runway project, he said.

Asked by the Globe to address neighbors’ concerns, the airport commission said in a written statement that rebuilding the runway will not allow larger airplanes to land, nor does the airport expect an “appreciable” change in the number of takeoffs and landings, which now number between 16,000 and 18,000 a year.

“None of the proposed safety improvements will make the airport suitable for aircraft that are not already able to operate out of the airport,” the commission wrote. It said that very few jet models can use an airport as small as Marshfield, and that with a runway bounded by rivers on both ends, Marshfield will remain a small, general aviation airport.

The commission said neighbors’ concerns are “largely a result of a small group of individuals that continue to spread false rumors” about large jets.

David Price, associate dean of aviation at Bridgewater State University, which boasts the largest four-year aviation program in the Northeast, said the Marshfield airport is safe for student pilots, but only if they have training in short-field takeoff and landing.

“I don’t love it” for students, because of the short runway, he said.

Price, who is a commercial pilot, said the extra 300 feet will provide a greater margin of error for safety, but will not allow larger aircraft. Only “really tiny” corporate jets, including one called a Microjet, can land in Marshfield; mid-size corporate jets cannot, he said.

Price said he lives in neighboring Duxbury, where he can see the planes landing from the beach. He said the taxiway will be widened, which will add to safety, and that he is pleased his students will be able to use better navigational aids. “It’s just modernizing the airport,” he said. “I’m really happy that Marshfield’s being brought up to date.”

With regard to the clear-cutting of vegetation that served as a buffer for Plymouth Avenue and Woodbine Road, the Airport Commission said obstructions to runway approaches must be cleared for “obvious” safety reasons, but vegetation that grows less than 15 feet high will be allowed in those areas in the spring. Fencing has been added or proposed in both areas, and the airport intends to add plantings in front of the fencing, the commission said.

In response to neighbors’ allegations that the switch to wooden pilings was made without approval from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the commission said the airport submitted plans to DEP that reflected the change. The agency conducted site inspections while pilings were being driven and never notified the airport of any problem, the commission said.

On another matter, though, the state did fault the airport. The Department of Environmental Protection cited the airport in November for failing to seek approval of changes involving a river crossing, according to an enforcement order obtained by the Globe.

Asked about the violations, the commission said that it has since submitted the necessary information.

Wennemer, the town conservation agent, said the airport “basically got a verbal approval” from DEP before implementing changes, and that the changes have since been approved in writing.

In a follow-up letter to the airport Jan. 10, the environmental agency asked for more information on its plans for stormwater mitigation, control of invasive species, and prevention of stormwater pollution during construction.

Joe Ferson, spokesman for the environmental agency, at first said he would not reveal details about complaints DEP has received on the airport project until they were resolved; when pressed, he said he would provide the complaints in up to a week’s time.

The airport, also known as George D. Harlow Airfield, has been owned by the town since the 1960s. According to airport officials, Town Meeting voted in October 1965 to acquire the land and three buildings previously owned by Plymouth Copters, along with some adjacent land.

The town executed the purchase in 1967 via eminent domain. The cost was just shy of $119,000, with $30,000 of it coming from local funds and the rest from state and federal grants, according to a slide presentation created by airport staff.

The airfield is named after a member of the Airport Commission who served for 45 years, from 1964 until he died in 2009. He contributed to the original vision for a municipal airport in Marshfield and to the plans for the present renovation.

A recent Massachusetts Department of Transportation study estimated the facility’s direct economic effect — airport activity plus off-airport visitor spending — at $4.7 million. The study pegged additional economic benefits, including recirculation of money from employee payroll and from local spending by airport businesses, at an additional $3.3 million.

Jennette Barnes can be reached at