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All clear for takeoffs; airport director expects vegetation to grow back quickly

A large swath of trees recently removed near Williamsport Regional Airport to make it safe for pilots landing and departing left the land a stark contrast for those accustomed to the canopy of leafy cover.

“It doesn’t look pretty . . . it looks a little creepy,” said Richard Howell, airport executive director, who added it was done to keep pilots, crews and passengers safe, especially at night, as the airplanes land and take off.

It is such a different appearance that from Interstate 180, motorists could be seen this week twisting their heads to get a glimpse of the runways and airport facilities, which went unseen for years because shade trees and wild growth around the airport perimeter.

Mill Street, the access road to a small baseball field and boat launch leading to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, is no longer lined by trees.

“Certainly many people are disappointed in the loss of the trees,” Montoursville Mayor Steven Bagwell said.

Bagwell, who has a hobby as a photographer, said he would take photographs of wildlife in the natural habitat lining Loyalsock Creek.

Bagwell said the borough had nothing to do with the job and he completely understood the purpose of removing the trees but noted some people are upset at the appearance of the landscape.

The job was approved by the Williamsport Municipal Airport Authority. Howell said the project was a mandate from the Federal Aviation Administration, which is covering the cost of between $150,000 to $200,000, he said.

The landscape should recover and revegetate, Howell said.

It was seeded with a special mulch that includes grass seed and adhesive to keep it from washing away in the rain, he said.

Known as hydroseeding, it is a method of spraying grass seed using an adhesive meant to prevent soil erosion and revegetate the land was done, Howell said.

“It should start to look better in a few weeks,” he said. “We can get into areas we were unable to get to and mow,” he said.

The contracted work was done by Beeghly Tree Removal Service, a company that also has a tree removal management agreement with Loyalsock Township approved by its supervisors.

Tree removal near the airport runways was done a decade ago, but not to such an extensive degree, Howell said.

Howell said the authority went through multiple agencies before moving on the project.

To get the permission required getting permits and approval from several agencies, including but not limited to the state Department of Environmental Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, with a review by the Lycoming County Conservation District and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state Fish and Boat Commission, Howell said.

Also among those agencies was the Lycoming County Conservation District, which has experts who were asked to ensure erosion and sediment control were done to protect the nearby waterways of Loyalsock Creek and West Branch of the Susquehanna River.

Matt Long, a district technician with the conservation district, said the district was asked to ensure erosion and sediment control devices were in place.

“And they were,” Long said, adding his inspection was done off Canfields Lane in Loyalsock Township, where a “silt sock,” a large fiber sock filled with wood chips and mulch, was added, he said.

American Airlines continues its commercial service at the airport through September, with flights to Philadelphia from Williamsport, Howell said.

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