Commissionreceives funds to create a master plan

Published on Thu, Aug 5, 2004 by eg Olson

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Commission receives funds to create a master plan

By Meg Olson

After months of negotiating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the city’s airport commission has reached a deal that is bringing $112,000 in federal funds to Blaine for an airport master plan, a document that airport commissioners hope will get the fortunes of the facility off the ground.

“What we hope is it will give the city a definite idea of what to do with the airport,” said airport commissioner Doug Fenton. It could also pay for it. “If it’s accepted by the FAA, the FAA will likely pay for the projects recommended in the plan,” Fenton said. “Without a plan they won’t fund anything.”

The FAA grant, accepted unanimously by Blaine city council at their July 26 meeting along with the choice of W&H Pacific as consultants, will cover 95 percent of the total cost of preparing the airport master plan. The city’s airport fund and the state department of transportation will each pick up half of the remaining five percent, paying $2,789 each.

The master plan takes over where an airport feasibility study completed last year left off. David Ketchum of Airstream, who prepared that plan, put together airport history, usage, public input and came up with five options: do nothing with the airport, improve it where it is, move it, expand it, or close it. City council didn’t choose a definitive course of action out of those options, but did opt to pursue grant funding for master planning to get an idea what the FAA felt would make the airport viable.

Fenton said the commission hoped the plan would recommend lengthening and expanding the runway, which would allow larger aircraft to land in Blaine. “We’re not trying to make this an airport to handle jumbo jets,” he explained, but added they would like to see air freight and limited passenger service come to Blaine. “Some day we would hope to have a general aviation and terminal building here,” he said. The airport currently houses 23 planes and the last FAA estimates are that there are 5,300 take-offs and landings there per year.
Expansion plans are likely to be dogged by environmental issues and public malaise, in keeping with the airport’s rocky history. Fenton said in the 1980s the city council voted to close the airport, but citizens voted to keep it open, a scene that has replayed itself since, accompanied by discussions on whether an airport is the best use for the land, located adjacent to the truck route and between a shopping center and the schools. The city has also spent close to half a million dollars on legal expenses, tree removal and land acquisition to deal with tall trees that presented a safety issue at the south end of the runway. The proposed expansion, Fenton said, “is going to involve going into a wetland,” which will require potentially costly mitigation.
As one of the airports on the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems (NPIAS) list, Fenton said the airport is one of federal significance. “It’s strategically located close to the border,” he said. “With the emphasis on security since 9/11 we feel the airport could be important to national security.” He also said an expanded airport would benefit the local economy. “With the Olympics coming we see a lot of potential.”

The master planning process is expected to take approximately a year. “The project has a master plan advisory committee that will be appointed to help as we move through the process,” said city manager Gary Tomsic. The committee, approved in principle by city council in January, would be made up of a member of the airport commission, a city council member, a representative of the business community, one from the pilots association, one party who leases property at the airport, and one representing the surrounding property owners. Tomsic said he expects council will move to appoint people to those positions at their August 23 meeting.