Consultantsuggests $16.8 million airport plan

Published on Thu, Jul 21, 2005 by ara Nelson

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Consultant suggests $16.8 million airport plan

By Tara Nelson

A consultant hired by the city of Blaine to study options for a $16.8 million airport expansion presented his findings this past Monday at a public meeting that degenerated into a exhausting three-hour debate with an equal number of Blaine residents voicing their sometimes vehement opposition and support for the expansion.

Mark Napier, a consultant at W & H Pacific, an engineering firm in Spokane, said the overall goal is to expand the airport to accommodate more business-type, twin-turbine aircraft, otherwise known as a B-II type aircraft, in an effort to encourage growth in the business community. The current airport capacity allows A-1, or small, single, engine planes and is not useable during adverse weather conditions.
Napier said this would mean upgrading the airport to FAA standards by expanding the runway, increasing runway width to, implementing a global positioning system for cloudy weather, increasing the distance between the runway and taxiway and replacing the runway lighting system. He also recommended installing lighted signs; constructing additional hangars, tie downs, larger fuel tanks and a parking facility; installing vehicular access gates and a parking facility; and acquiring property to accommodate runway expansion. All four of the plan options involve either extending the runway or relocating it south.
Doug Fenton, chair of the Blaine airport commission, said the main reason for the project is to encourage business people who fly planes to move their business here.

“One of the first things business (people) look for is an airport,” he said. “If they can’t land their airplanes here, they’ll move elsewhere.”
Another reason, Fenton said, is that towns that have easy access for a governor to fly to typically have better luck applying for grants and funding.

“You wouldn’t think it would matter but it does,” he said.
Meanwhile, Blaine residents packed the room, forming a line that extended out the chamber doors and into the hallway. Several of them, including two former mayors and Port of Bellingham commissioner Jim Jorgensen, spoke out against any sort of airport expansion.
“I understand the hard work that’s been put into this,” Jorgensen said. “I’m just asking the city to put equal funding and equal time into hiring a consultant to find alternative uses.”

Several council members raised concerns about fuel prices rising and questioned its impact on revenues and activity.

Napier said the forecast says that fuel prices do affect the activity, but not in a significant way.

“There is an impact, but I don’t know if there’s enough of an impact that it will create a significant impact,” he said. “It’s just a matter of timing.”

Fenton agreed.

“Fuel sales are a very small percentage of our budget,” he said. “Our biggest income raisers are our land use projects and that is forecasted to increase. Business use is going to continue no matter what the price is.”

Council member Bruce Wolf asked if the FAA would continue to help with costs of maintaining the airport and to what extent.

Napier said the FAA traditionally only funds capital improvements but it now offers non-primary entitlements, which allow for certain maintenance activities. Currently, the city receives about $150,000 a year in federal primary entitlement grants, part of which can be used for such projects. Also, Fenton said the city recently acquired a piece of land without help from FAA that could pay for existing projects.
“With the purchase of the land we’ve already pre-funded the city’s share of the development,” he said. “So it won’t cost us any more money.”

Council member Bonnie Onyon said she worried about getting locked into a project without a guarantee of federal and state funds.

“One of the caveats is that eligibility for state funding does not guarantee the city will receive funds,” she said. “I’m worried that if we begin the project, we’re kind of assuming things will roll along but we could get locked into something. I want to know the likelihood of funding coming through.”

Napier said he couldn’t guarantee, but that, traditionally, the FAA follows through with funding.

“They don’t like to leave things half-finished,” he said.

Stan Anderson of the state department of transportation agreed.
“We don’t have that money yet,” he said. “However, it’s safe to say there will be some sort of program. When the FAA sees a community that’s going to start doing the plan and if they see that the city has invested $7 million in property acquisition, they’re not going to want to see that acquisition wasted.”

What are the alternatives?

Napier discussed four strategies for airport expansion, the first of which would add 661 feet to the south end of the runway, which would meet the FAA length requirements of 3,200 feet for type B-II aircraft.

The extended runway, however, would need to cross, tunnel under or force the relocation of Pipeline Road – a project the FAA ruled too expensive.

Alternative 2 would add the 661 feet to the north end of the runway, increase the width of the runway to 60 feet and taxiway width to 25 feet, and increase the distance between the two. That plan, however, would only allow small B-I aircraft and would require significant relocation of H Street and housing areas, Napier said.

“We didn’t like that alternative very much,” he said.
Alternative 3 also extends the runway 661 feet but shifts the entire runway 600 feet south out of the way of obstructions such as commercial buildings, truck parking and roads.

Alternative 3-B is identical to alternative 3-A with the exception of a 1,431-foot runway extension that Napier said conflicted with Yew Avenue on the south end of the runway.

Alternative 4 would also add to the south end of the runway but, as with alternative 3, the entire runway would be shifted south about 1,500 feet, just south of Boblett Street.

Preferred alternative
Napier and the commission recommended alternative 4, a 3,200-foot runway and parallel taxiway on east side, which the FAA has already supported. The plan is preferred because it would allow easy access for trucks and reserve land east of the airport for possible future development. The east side of Boblett Street, however, would have to be depressed five or six feet to get adequate clearance for aircraft.

Fenton said alternatives 3-A and 3-B did not accommodate extra room required by the FAA’s regulations for use of global positioning systems.

“The federal government has very strict regulations for airport design,” he said. “When you’re landing in bad weather there’s a risk of coming out of the clouds and being a little off. They want to make sure there’s lots of room around the runway so they require wide separation between the taxiway and the runway.”

What are the next steps?
Fenton said the next step is to send the master plan to the FAA for a final review. If they approve the plan, the council will vote on whether to adopt it after a public comment period.

Also, Mayor John Liebert is expected to make a motion at the next Monday’s council meeting to create a citizen advisory commission to investigate alternatives to the airport expansion.

Napier said he expects the FAA to approve the plan.

“They’ve been involved along the way and we think they’ll approve the plan with few comments,” he said. He expects a decision by mid to late October.