Councilto vote on final airport master plan September 5

Published on Thu, Aug 24, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Council to vote on final airport master plan September 5

By Tara Nelson

If the Blaine City Council approves a final master plan by the Blaine Airport Commission, the city will be one step closer to receiving as much as $15 million in federal grants for a future airport expansion.
At a workshop Monday, the Blaine Airport Committee presented the Blaine Airport Master Plan for adoption by the council since the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved it earlier this year.
The plan is one of the three alternatives the city council is examining in their decision as to whether the Blaine’s current airport should continue to operate as a municipal function. Approval of such a plan would not limit future decisions of whether to close the airport, but would simply secure the possibility of federal funding if an expansion is to occur.

A second plan, scheduled for completion later this year by the Alternative Land Use Committee, will examine the feasibility of closure, as well as other possible uses for the airport. The third alternative involves allowing the airport to continue functioning as it is.

Doug Fenton, who chairs the committee, said the Blaine airport master plan calls for expanding the airport to accommodate more business-type, twin-turbine aircraft, otherwise known as a B-II type aircraft, in an effort to encourage growth in the business community. The current airport capacity allows A-1, or small single-engine planes and is not useable during adverse weather conditions.

The plan also calls for upgrading the airport to FAA standards by expanding the width of the runway from 40 feet to 75 feet, increasing runway length from 2,500 feet to 3,200 feet, implementing a global positioning system for cloudy weather, increasing the distance between the runway and taxiway and replacing the runway lighting system, Fenton said.

The plan also calls for constructing additional hangars, tie downs and a parking facility, as well as moving the entire runway south.
Fenton said the goal behind the expansion would be to encourage business people who fly planes to move their business here.
Opponents of the airport expansion claim the airport is a financial drain on the city at worst and a stagnant business at best.

Blaine finance director Meredith Riley said the city of Blaine has loaned the airport a total of $334,160 since its inception as a municipal function.

The most recent city loan was granted by the city council during an August 14 council meeting for $50,000 to be paid for through the city’s general reserve fund.

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the money was needed after the city lost an appeal filed by the Carruthers family, of Blaine, over a piece land condemned for a municipal right-of-way.

Of the proposed project’s total estimated cost of $20 million, Fenton said he expects $15 million to be picked up by the FAA and $4 million to be picked up by private interests. The remaining million would be split between the city of Blaine and the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT).

In addition, if the plan is adopted, Fenton added the nearly $700,000 paid by the city to the Carruthers family for a piece of land acquired for adequate runway clearance, will be paid in full – or nearly in full – by the FAA under land acquisition costs associated with the expansion.

Some council members, such as Jason Overstreet, expressed concern that if the council adopted the plan they may be forced to expand.
“What are the ramifications of the council approving this plan and then not going ahead with the expansion?” he said.

Mark Napier, a consultant with W&H Pacific hired by the city, said while there were no obligatory consequences for merely approving the plan, not doing so would make it impossible to receive the money. “They cannot give funding until you have an approved layout plan,” he said. “So that gives you the vehicle to in turn accept FAA money.”

Fenton agreed. “The short answer is none,” he said. “It’s like getting a pre-approval for a loan of your home. You’re not committed until you accept federal grant monies. The other side of that is it’s to your advantage to do it as soon as possible since the 2007 fiscal year starts in October. So you want to get those grant applications in before then. Otherwise you’re looking at something like 2008.”

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the council will have a chance to vote on the plan at the upcoming September 5 council meeting. The final report of the alternate land use committee is scheduled for release later this year.