President Obama has been blamed for a lot of things during his time in office. Add wrecking an airport to that list.
Robert Stetson said Obama's motorcade -- welcomed when America’s chief executive paid a surprise April 1 visit to emergency workers responding to the region’s worst floods in memory -- ruined the surface of the runway of his tiny airport in Marlborough.
To blame, Stetson says: The Secret Service SUVs, police cruisers, armored limousines, fire trucks and other politicians’ vehicles that were part of the entourage.
“I had no clue this airport surface was going be overrun by heavy equipment,” said Stetson, a bearded, pipe-smoking 64-year-old who owns owns the 1920s-era airfield and lives in a house next to the airport workshop. “All I agreed to at the outset was six helicopters. I am very concerned I won’t be able to get through another snow plowing season without destroying what runway we have.”
Obama's visit was a landmark day for the area. Onlookers snapped photographs and jockeyed to catch a glimpse of the president before he traveled to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency bunker in Framingham and a fund-raiser in Boston.
To fix his airstrip, Stetson is now engaged in an enterprise that appears easy from afar, but in practice is harder than one might imagine. He wants Washington to spend money.
“I’m taking on Goliath, and I don’t want to get nasty about it,” he said. ”I’m still trying to find the right person who is going to say ‘OK, Bob, don’t worry about it. We’ll fix your runways and taxiways because we damaged them,’ the same way you’d expect someone to pay if they tore up your backyard.”
The power brokers are listening. A White House spokeswoman said she she called Stetson on Wednesday and gave him the contact information for the Secret Service’s field office in Boston. Representative James McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, and Marlborough officials have also pledged their support.
“It was kudos for him, but his airport isn’t designed for that,” said Marlborough City Council Arthur Vigeant. “It was a huge windfall for him in terms of notoriety. It’s not a scandal.”
Officials said Stetson needs to determine how much repairs the runway would cost. But as one of three people who work at the airport—his wife and a mechanic, his only paid employee, make up his staff—he hasn’t had much time to put an exact figure on the damages, he said. He expects them to be at least $100,000. To the untrained eye, the runway—lined with patches applied over the years—appeared intact.
But on Thursday Stetson showed how a deep groove about the size of a truck tire ran down one side of the 50-foot-wide, 1,700-foot-long runway where the president’s motorcade parked in a single file. “If you are a 1,200-pound plane going 60 miles per hour and you hit that groove
Richard Singleton, a representative from Sealcoating Inc. of Hingham who happened to drop by the airport on Thursday to meet Stetson about a state-organized program to improve private airports, said sealing the cracks in the runway could cost as much as $90,000.
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