The Juneau Airport Board is requesting that the Assembly ask the state to transfer 18 acres of the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge for a runway safety expansion.
Environmental advocate Laurie Ferguson Craig spoke out against the airport's request.
The airport has several projects under analysis in a Federal Aviation Administration environmental study, said Craig, who has walked the Airport Dike Trail with her dogs almost every day for 20 years.
"The appropriate time to make a decision on this resolution would be after information has been provided and examined through the (environmental impact statement) process," Craig said.
Assembly members were also divided over whether they should defer at their Monday meeting. While Assemblyman Marc Wheeler proposed tabling the resolution, Assembly members Randy Wanamaker and Jeannie Johnson opposed the suggestion.
"Although the Mendenhall refuge is important to the public, safety of the airport is also incredibly important," Johnson said.
After a lengthy discussion, the Assembly asked Airport Manager Allan Heese to prepare more information, such as a map of the requested tidelands, so it can reconsider the proposal at its next meeting, July 12.
According to Heese, the 18 acres the airport wants would include seven acres of tidelands on the east side at the end of the runway and 11 acres on the west side.
"The east side is primarily for runway safety area," Heese said. "The west side is primarily for wildlife habitat elimination for hazard reductions, but can be used for runway safety area, too. The purpose is to reduce bird strikes. Birds can fly into the cockpit, destroy engines and tear off parts of airplanes' wings."
Once it acquires the land and gets the approval from the FAA, the airport would fill the area with dirt. "Right now the land is uneven. If a plane rolls on it, it could break off the gear or the plane might be under water," Heese said. "If we fill the land with dirt, the plane can roll out on it without damaging the aircraft and the passengers."
Heese said the airport board would like to see the ownership transfer and the environmental study proceed concurrently.
"Although the environmental impact study is not yet completed, this is a step that may be necessary to complete the projects once the EIS is accomplished and permits are obtained," Heese said.
I-Chun Che can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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