New airport beacon lights up Methow Valley
Thursday, November 15, 2012
WINTHROP — When the state Department of Transportation started making safety improvements at the Methow Valley State Airport last year, nearby resident Ken Bevis didn’t think much about it.
After all, the airport isn’t that close to his quiet rural residence.
His house is all the way across the Methow River and up a hill, about three-quarters of a mile from the airport that also serves the North Cascades Smokejumper Base between Twisp and Winthrop.
But after a 32-foot tall beacon was installed and turned on last summer, his world suddenly changed.
He said his wife couldn’t sleep and he could no longer enjoy the stars — one of the best reasons for living the Methow Valley.
“It was like a prison light,” Bevis said in an interview this week. “We were really upset.”
Bevis described a wide beam that rotated every two and a half seconds, illuminating the hillsides as rotations changed the light from bright white to green and back to white again.
“It’s basically a lighthouse sitting in a valley bottom, in a place halfway between two dimly-lighted small towns.”
Bevis wasn’t the only one complaining.
Fill out an online survey at: surveymonkey.com/s/Methowbeaconfeedback
Send an email to: email@example.com
Written comments mailed to: WSDOT Aviation, 18204 59th Drive NE, Suite B, Arlington, WA 98223
Faxed to: 360-651-6319
Four days after turning the beacon on in mid-July, the state Department of Transportation turned it off due to the complaints, said Nisha Marvel, DOT’s aviation spokeswoman.
Last week, the agency conducted tests for a visual impact analysis. Engineers tested angles and shielding options to see if they could improve the impact from light. They took photographs from different locations, while the beacon was on, and while it was off, Marvel said.
This week — through Friday — the agency is accepting online comments. By mid-day Wednesday, the DOT had received 145 comments about the beacon.
Marvel said anyone is invited to offer an opinion about the beacon whether they saw the tests and light emitting from the beacon or not.
The beacon is a small part — about 10 to 15 percent — of the $1.1 million improvement project at the airport, funded almost entirely by the Federal Aviation Administration, with some funds from the state DOT.
Because of the federal money, Marvel said, her agency will have to adhere to FAA standards. “Normally, a beacon is required to be operated from dusk till dawn,” she said. “But the Methow Valley is unique. They value their night sky, the picturesque setting and quiet.”
That means the DOT may be able to turn to a pilot-activated beacon, which would only be used when approaching pilots turn it on.
A final report will be issued in January listing all of the testing protocols, along with conclusions and recommendations.
Bevis said he’d be happy if the DOT agreed to keep the beacon turned off until a pilot approached. He offered his home as one of the testing sites, and the DOT took him up on it, along with four other locations.
“I’ve only seen one night landing since July 14, and that was at the Smokejumper Base right after dark,” he said.
But Bevis said that more is at stake than the quality of life for a few hundred residents who can see the airport from their homes. “This is a bit of a test case for the importance of dark sky issues.”
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512
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