FAA opens door to airport upgrades

Official expects nearly $50 million in improvements

Posted: Tuesday, July 17, 2007

After years of work and nearly $4 million, the Federal Aviation Administration has given the Juneau International Airport its blessing to move ahead with expansion of its runway safety area and other projects.

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"It's a milestone," Airport Manager Dave Palmer said.

The airport projects include improved navigational alignment, a building for snow removal equipment and maintenance, greater fuel-farm access, improved aircraft parking and storage, and an updated wildlife hazard management plan.

Web links

For a complete copy of the Juneau International Airport EIS Record of Decision, visit www.jnu-eis.org.

The FAA signed off on the record of decision for the environmental impact statement on airport improvements on July 6, said Pat Owien, an FAA planner with the Airports Division.

"They still need to get the permits to do the actual development, which they are working with the resource agencies that have the jurisdiction," Owien said. "And we still need to do the design work."

FAA money and improvements have been put on hold for the past six years while the environmental impact statement has been in the works. The airport is now working on the proper federal, state and city permits to complete a backlog of upgrades, he said.

"Overall, we'll probably see almost $50 million of improvement over the next three years," Palmer said. For comparison, the FAA has provided about $45 million in upgrades during the past 20 years, he said.

The majority of that $50 million is federal, but a small percentage is expected to come from the city and state, Palmer said.

"We have a backlog of work but we have a backlog of FAA grant money," he said.

The environmental study began after the FAA required all airports to expand their runway safety areas in the 1990s. According to the FAA, the Juneau runway safety area is too narrow and short.

Once the proper permits are obtained, the floatplane pond will undergo substantial dredging and the material will be transferred to areas around the airport to address project needs.

Design work will be done while dredging takes place. Once it's done, the construction of a $16 million to 18 million snow removal equipment and maintenance building will begin, he said.

"Our goal is to begin the dredging this spring," he said.

The runway safety area improvements will require adding fill to the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge, one of the reasons the EIS took so long to complete, Palmer said.

"It's a federal requirement to do this, and the effort over the last several years has been to look at all the alternatives to have the least amount of effect on the wetlands," he said.

The FAA record of decision indicates 54.4 acres of marsh will be lost, 18 acres of which is in the refuge.

The project also will include relocating a portion of Duck Creek up to the property line on the north side of the airport, moving the trailhead of the Airport Dike Trail and providing a new parking area.

Although permitting is not guaranteed, Palmer said he is optimistic that it will run smoothly because many of the permitting agencies have been involved in the EIS process.

Palmer said he did not know when the permits could be issued, but imagined it would be within the year.

"We've all been waiting for the record of decision," Palmer said. "And this will kick all of this loose."

• Eric Morrison can be reached

at 523-2269 or by e-mail at eric.morrison@juneauempire.com.

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