Airport says no to FAA runway plan

Feds, city agree on other airport projects

Posted: Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Juneau International Airport officials have reiterated their opposition to a technology suggested by the Federal Aviation Administration to improve Juneau's runway-end safety areas.

At the Assembly Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday, FAA officials presented a draft environmental study that includes five options to improve Juneau's runway safety area. Three options use the engineered-materials arresting system, a method airport officials call "wrong technology, wrong place, wrong time."

Although this was not the first time Juneau Airport Board members told the FAA they don't trust the arresting system, it was the first Juneau meeting with FAA representatives since the agency's May 2 release of the study.

In addition to the runway safety area, the study explores the environmental effects of such projects as building a road to the airport's fuel farm, building new hangars for aircraft parking, and apron space for aircraft parking, and erecting a building to store snow removal equipment. The draft also studies installation of an approach lighting system and implementation of a revised wildlife hazard management plan.

The FAA will hold two public hearings at Centennial Hall. One starts at 5:30 p.m. today and the other is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. FAA officials and consultants are available to answer people's questions two and half hours before the hearings.

In most projects covered in the study, the FAA supports Juneau's proposed solutions. The runway safety area project is an exception. The FAA requires an airport like Juneau to have a runway safety area that is 500 feet wide and 1,000 feet long at each end of the runway. The airport doesn't meet the requirement.

Juneau airport officials say they prefer a traditional runway safety area, which is made of dirt and is cheaper to build and maintain than the arresting system.

It costs $9.4 million to build traditional runway safety areas. But it costs at least $18 million to build the arresting system on both ends of the runway.

Ron Swanson, chairman of the Airport Board, said the Airport Board will pass a resolution next week to reject the arresting system.

Patti Sullivan, project manager of the draft study, said runway safety areas using the arresting system would require less refuge land than the traditional ones because a runway safety area with an arresting system only needs to be 600 feet long.

But unlike other projects, the FAA doesn't state whether an option that involves the arresting system will be its preferred option.

"We want to hear more comments and concerns before identifying a preferred alternative," said Ken Wallace, manager of the project's consulting team.

Airport officials also disagree with the FAA's determination that under federal law the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge is section 4(f) land, which has the most stringent environmental requirements. She said with the determination, the FAA will have more difficulty selecting an alternative that meets environmental standards.

Juneau Airport Manager Allan Heese said the state should determine whether the city can acquire the wetlands for expansion.

"This is the type of decision that should be made by the attorney general's office or the commissioner's office," Heese said.

Airport officials will ask the Assembly to request 18 acres of the refuge from the state to expand. The Assembly meeting is June 13.

• I-Chun Che can be reached at ichun.che@juneauempire.com.



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