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Airport looks to capitalize on extra funds

Runway lighting, welcome sign could use improvements, staff say

Posted: August 10, 2012 - 12:05am
A new "Welcome to Juneau" sign is one of the things the Juneau International Airport staff said they would like to see upgraded.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
A new "Welcome to Juneau" sign is one of the things the Juneau International Airport staff said they would like to see upgraded.

Juneau International Airport staff said this week that they would like to use federal and local money for certain improvements, including increased runway approach lighting and perhaps a new “Welcome to Juneau” sign.

Airport Manager Jeannie Johnson said that a new cost estimate for the airport’s Medium Intensity Approach Lighting System on Runway 26, often known as “26 MALSR,” projects that $2 million more would be required for completion.

That money would be in addition to the $1 million allocated by the United States Federal Aviation Administration in 2010.

“We worked with the FAA to say, ‘Okay, well, what does a million dollars buy us? Can we get part of it?’” Johnson recounted Thursday. “So we’ve gotten the design and we’re supposed to get, I think, about three lights. And then we heard the other day that there might be a possibility that there might be this leftover (FY12) funding.”

All three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation recently sent letters to the FAA’s acting administrator, Michael Huerta, requesting he consider putting $2 million of the unused FY12 FAA funds toward the completion of 26 MALSR.

A complete 26 MALSR system would include approximately eight to nine elevated light arrays, Johnson estimated.

Having 26 MALSR complete, Johnson said, would be a “fantastic thing” for the community and an aid to pilots attempting to land at Juneau International Airport.

“As far as I know, it will reduce their minimums. In other words, they can come down to a lower altitude than they can right now because they’ll have the lights to help guide them in,” Johnson explained. “We occasionally have bad weather days here, and we occasionally have Alaska Airlines flights that don’t get in. So it should cut down on a relatively small number, really, of missed approaches.”

Johnson said that she values having Alaska’s two U.S. senators and one congressman looking out for the airport.

“Our full delegation is in complete support of the fact that we need to finish out the lighting system,” Johnson said. She added, “We are just always pretty grateful that the delegation is so supportive of the airport.”

Johnson briefly mentioned the matter at Wednesday evening’s meeting of the airport’s board of directors.

At that meeting, board member Ron Swanson also raised the question of what progress has been made to replace the airport’s current “Welcome to Juneau” sign.

The sign is of simple, unadorned wood construction, displaying just a brief welcome message and the names of Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.

While Airport Architect Catherine Fritz said staff have largely been focused elsewhere this summer, she said a few concepts for a new sign have been discussed.

One proposal, which she described as a sculptural sign with lighted metal towers that would imitate the peaks flanking the Mendenhall Glacier, would run in the $40,000 to $50,000 range, she said.

A cheaper option, she said, would be a carved wooden sign with enamel paint, similar to the Yukon welcome signs along roads into the Canadian territory east of Alaska.

“There’s some nice ones these days,” Fritz said. “It’s (a) pretty basic sign for your probably ($5,000) to $10,000, so it’s not, you know, huge.”

Johnson said she had directed Fritz and her staff to look into their options and mentioned the 1 percent for art as a possible source of money for a new sign.

Swanson responded, “I know the sign (Fritz) means, and when she mentioned that, I thought about, believe it or not, the 1 percent for art. And that would be a good way to use that, because it is hand-carved art.”

Under City and Borough of Juneau code governing public art, often known as the “1 percent for art” ordinance, 1 percent of the construction cost of the airport’s planned Snow Removal Equipment Facility is slated to go toward public art for the building.

“If the 1 percent for art ordinance stays in its current form and is applied to the SREF building, there would be about $150,000 that would be used for art at the SREF, which some would argue is not necessarily the best use of $150,000,” said Fritz, to chuckles.

The Assembly Finance Committee recommended last month that $3.1 million in matching funds for a grant to build the SREF come out of the proposed 1 percent special sales tax extension. That extension is expected to appear on the October ballot if the Assembly gives its approval this month.

Fritz said Thursday that while airport staff do not have direct control over how public art funds are spent, they can say they “strongly favor” certain uses of the money.

“The way the ordinance currently reads is that the preference is to use the art on the (SREF) building. … However, that is a maintenance building, and it doesn’t have much of a public face,” Fritz said. “One idea was, well, if we could use the funds in the immediate vicinity of that building … that a welcoming sign might be an appropriate place for that.”

While progress on the sign replacement is more or less on hold for now, said Fritz, due to other ongoing projects and uncertainty over funding, she remarked, “We would like to have a sign that is a little bit more modern and substantial than the one that we currently have.”

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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