Bigideas, bigger money

Published on Thu, Dec 9, 2004 by eg Olson

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Big ideas, bigger money

By Meg Olson

Building a bigger and better airport for Blaine could be a tight squeeze. Alternatives being considered as part of the airport master planning process include tunneling under Pipeline Road on the more modest end and moving the truck route on the more ambitious.

At a December 7 open house, consultant Mark Napier of W&H Pacific presented several alternatives for a new airfield and airport facilities layout as the second step in developing an airport master plan for the Blaine airport, the first being an inventory of current facilities. “Now we want to get community input, steering committee input and come back with a recommendation in January,” Napier said before the open house.

The four airfield layout options are predicated on getting the airport up to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards for the kind of small aircraft now using the airport, a B-I standard, or improving to accommodate larger aircraft, such as a twin turboprop eight-seater, meeting a B-II standard. “We need to determine what category of airport we can become,” said Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic. “For B-I we don’t meet the standards on a lot of things and if we go to B-II there are a lot more.” Alternatives also aimed to bring the airport to a standard that would allow a Global Positioning System (GPS) approach to the runway.

To meet the higher B-II standard accommodating all small aircraft and allow a GPS runway approach, the airport would need to almost double in size, its primary surface width going from 250 to 500 feet and the runway stretching from 2,539 feet to 3,200 feet or longer.
Of the two alternatives that met the higher B-II standards, both envision extending the runway 661' to the south but one shifts the runway 1,800 feet south and 150 feet east, translating to significant land acquisition, tree clearing and wetland impacts. The other leaves the runway in its current configuration, requiring relocation of H Street, SR543 and Pipeline Road, and impacting commercial and residential uses north of the airport.

To meet the more modest B-I standards the airport would still need to grow, and the runway would need to be extended by 661' to meet the needs of 95 percent of the small aircraft that could use the airport. One alternative looked at accomplishing this by extending the runway north, which would again require the relocation of major roads and impact commercial residential areas. The alternative with the least impact moves the runway south by 1,400 feet and tunneling Pipeline Road under the runway or eliminating it.

In his report Napier recommended going with the last option to minimize impacts, concluding that the disadvantages of trying to move major roads and businesses would “far outweigh the advantages.”

The report doesn’t make a recommendation for plans to expand general aviation facilities but proposes either moving all of them to the east of the runway to make western properties along the highway available for future development, or leaving them on both sides of the runway.

Fewer than 20 members of the public attended the meeting. One who did was port of Bellingham commissioner and long-time Blaine resident Jim Jorgensen who asked, “Is the airport needed if Bellingham is only 15 minutes away?”

Asked by Trevor Hoskin what the costs and potential use would be, Napier replied, “Costs are yet to be determined but will be 90 per cent paid for by federal funding. The plan forecasts use to increase to 5,000 operations (take-offs and landings) and resident aircraft to expand from 26 to 37 in the next 20 years.” This, in turn, led to a question by Geoff Packwood who wondered, “So with locally based aircraft going from 26 to 37, all this is being done for just 11 more planes?” Napier replied “No, that’s just the locally based aircraft. Expansion is done to accommodate and to sell services to transient aircraft as well.”

Ron Miller asked “Are there in fact corporate operators who want to use the Blaine airport but can’t right now because of its size? Are there companies and businesses that would re-locate to Blaine if the airport accommodated B-2 aircraft?” Napier was unable to cite actual examples but added that companies were being surveyed to determine the level of interest in locating in Blaine. Airport commissioner Doug Fenton said, “If businesses keep their aircraft in Bellingham, that’s where they’ll locate.”

In addition to comments received at the December 7 open house Napier said they will be reviewing public input collected through comment forms available at city hall. “We hope to have an airport concept in January, have a draft in February and submit it to the FAA in March,” he said. Following FAA approval it’s up to city council to adopt the plan, which will mean the city can access FAA funding to pay for the improvements needed to meet plan goals. “It doesn’t mean we have to do it,” Tomsic said. “There are a lot of issues and one of the big ones is funding, but there are also issues relating to impacts on other uses and facilities.” Tomsic said he expects future public meetings in February and June.