Islanders Face Shutdown Of Lone Runway

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The 1,000 or so residents of Block Island, 12 miles off the New England coast, are facing six weeks or more with no aviation access later this year, when the local airport corporation plans to close their lone 2,500-foot runway for reconstruction. That will leave islanders dependent on the off-season ferry schedule, or in an emergency, helicopter service from pricey private operators or the U.S. Coast Guard. Bill Bendokas, operator of New England Airlines, has proposed that the grassy area adjacent to the runway should be made available so he can continue to fly the airlines' six flights per day. At a recent meeting about the shutdown, concerns were raised that using the grass would disturb the habitat of the endangered burying beetle. "That time of year, on the ferry schedule, it's tough for islanders to get to the mainland, conduct business or get to a doctor's appointment, and get back the same day," Bendokas told AVweb on Tuesday. The ferry trip takes about an hour, while the flight is just 12 minutes. Patti Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the state airport corporation, told AVweb that the grass-runway option will be looked into. "We want to work with the community," she said, and added that another meeting on the matter will be scheduled soon.