Airport runway project still a go despite delays
Port commissioner said he misspoke in radio interview
Friday, January 25, 2013
EAST WENATCHEE — The ports of Chelan and Douglas counties are still solidly behind plans to lengthen the runway at Pangborn Memorial Airport so larger aircraft can land there.
The latest expressions of support for the $22-$30 million project come after Port of Douglas County Commissioner Jim Huffman said in a radio interview Wednesday that “the urgency for that project has diminished” amid cost increases, a slow economy and a decision by Alaska Air to hold off on a potential plan to serve Pangborn with a regional jet that would require a longer runway.
Huffman said Thursday that he misspoke and was quoted out of context on the radio. He said he didn’t mean to imply that the project may have to be postponed, only that it was already behind schedule due to an unexpected delay in with an environmental-impact ruling from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
A spokeswoman for Alaska Airlines, parent company of Horizon Air, the airline that serves Pangborn, said Thursday that the company has no plans to use an aircraft other than the 76-seat Bombardier Q400 currently in use on the Pangborn-SeaTac route.
The port districts expect the FAA to pay for 90 percent of the project cost. Of the remaining 10 percent — $2.2 million to $3 million — the Port of Chelan will cover 70 percent, the Port of Douglas, 30 percent.
“It’s not our position that the project is postponed or is not going to happen,” Lisa Parks, director of the Port of Douglas County, said Thursday. “We believe the project is a necessary, important project.
Port of Chelan Director Mark Urdahl said the runway project is part of the ports’ joint 6-year capital-improvement plan for the airport, with work expected to begin this year.
“The FAA has said it (the runway) meets their level of justification to fund it. We want to proceed with that assumption,” Urdahl said.
Postponement, Urdahl said, would likely only result in increased project costs and reduced funding from the FAA — a scenario that could be avoided by moving forward as planned.
The project would add 1,300 feet to the northwest end of the runway to allow larger aircraft to land. This would make the airport more attractive to potential new airlines with additional destinations, officials have said.
Both ports — and property owners around the airport who have been told they’d lose their homes to the project — are waiting for the FAA to finish its environmental analysis of the project.
The ports submitted their “environmental assessment” for FAA review last spring. They expected a ruling last fall, but have yet to receive one.
Urdahl said that port officials will travel to Seattle Jan. 31 to introduce FAA officials to Trent Moyers, Pangborn’s new airport manager. He said port officials may discuss the environmental assessment while there.
Parks said that the waiting and uncertainty have been hard for the port, as well as the property owners.
“It really is in the hands of the FAA right now,” she said. “Until they issue the (environmental ruling) and decide to fund this project, we can’t do anything.”
She added, “The Port of Douglas is completely sympathetic with the people who have been in this limbo for so long. We’re going to try to do whatever we can to get this process to the end it needs to get to.”
One of those property owners is Barb LeRoy who has long said that she and her husband and mother-in-law, who lives next door, have become increasingly exasperated by the delays and uncertainty it’s brought to their lives.
“I don’t mind if they don’t do it, I just really want to know,” said LeRoy, who has been living with the uncertainty over her property’s future since at least 2009. “My mother-in-law’s roof is leaking, and we can’t spend $10,000 on it if they’re not going to reimburse us. How much longer do we have to live like this? The lack of communication is the biggest thing. We never find out anything without having to beg for it.”
Their properties have been officially appraised, but property owners aren’t privy to the appraisal amounts until they’re approved by the airport board — a process that has also been delayed by the still-lacking environmental ruling from the FAA, she said.
“It’s been nothing but a roller coaster for the last six months,” LeRoy said. “We’d like to be done with our properties. We’d like to move on.”
Christine Pratt: 665-1173
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