Wind shear detector on library site raises concerns

The Federal Aviation Administration wants to install a wind shear detector near Baton Rouge Airport and airport officials say they’ve found the perfect spot for it — on the grounds of the Scotlandville Branch Library.

But the library system’s director said he needs more information before he could recommend giving the plan a greenlight, and the Metro Council member who represents the area said officials need to look for somewhere else to put it.

The wind shear detector, similar to a cellphone tower but smaller, would only require the use of a 20-foot-by-20-foot piece of property, said Greg Accardo, the airport’s property coordinator. The towers are 60 to 80 feet tall, according to airport officials.

Library Director Spencer Watts said he needs more information before he could recommend that the Library Board of Control approve the installation.

“We are not automatically opposed to it,” Watts said. “I just need some technical details.”

One major concern is whether it would be a visual distraction, Watts said.

“Where exactly do they want to place it and in what quadrant?” he asked. “If it’s near Mengel Road (on the south side of the library site), you might not even see it.”

Ralph Hennessy, the airport’s assistant director of aviation, said the library was the perfect spot for the tower.

“The FAA is going to put another one out there,” Hennessy said. “We have to find a suitable site, preferably on government-owned land.”

The tower would add to the handful of similar detectors already stationed around the airport, he said, and would make it possible for planes to land on 600-feet of runway currently unavailable for arriving planes.

Hennessy said airport officials approached the library board several years ago with the same request and the board approved it.

“That agreement was never put in motion, never acted upon,” he said. “The FAA deemed it unnecessary, but now they want to go forward.”

Wind shear is a meteorological phenomenon caused when wind is forced downward in a “microburst,” Hennessy said.

The July 1982 crash of a Pan-Am flight in Kenner, which killed 146 aboard and eight on the ground, was attributed to wind shear, Hennessy said. After that crash, the FAA stepped up efforts to identify and predict wind shear, he said.

The FAA would build and maintain the tower, Hennessy said.

If the library board refuses to allow the wind shear detector to be placed on its land, airport officials may need to restart the site selection process, Hennessy said.

Chauna Banks-Daniel, who represents Scotlandville on the East Baton Rouge Metro Council, wondered what other locations have been considered.

“There are a lot of vacant properties in that area,” she said in a phone interview.

Later, in a text message, Bank-Daniel said the airport needs to look elsewhere.

“The Scotlandville community has paid a huge price to accommodate the airport in its advances,” she wrote. “I think it’s time for the airport to look somewhere else to sacrifice to meet their needs.”

Similar concerns came from Tanya Freeman, a member of the Library Board who said she grew up in Scotlandville.

Freeman also worried about the tower being an eyesore.

Freeman asked, rhetorically, whether the library would allow a similar tower to be placed at the downtown library.

“Probably not,” she said.

Freeman suggested the airport consider land around the North Baton Rouge Waste Water Treatment Plant, where the city-parish is in the process of buying out 44 residents to create a buffer zone around the plant.