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"FAA won't let Port off the hook on Washington airport"
- From: "Stephen Irwin" <stepheni@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sun, 19 Nov 2006 09:16:56 -0600
Sunday, November 19, 2006
FAA won't let Port off the hook on airport
By Bill Lindstrom
The Aberdeen (WA) Daily World
Needing only five days to reach a decision, the Federal Aviation
Administration denied the Port of Grays Harbor's request to be "released
from federal surplus property disposal restrictions at Bowerman Field."
The Port had sought the required release from operating the airport facility
in order to explore other opportunities to develop Terminal 3, the former
Rayonier property on Moon Island, and adjacent land, including the airport.
In a brief but strong denial of the Port's Nov. 1 request, the FAA responded
in a Nov. 6 letter written by Paul Johnson, civil engineer and compliance
specialist with the Seattle office of the FAA, that the department rejected
the release because:
* Bowerman Field is a vital and integral part of the Harbor's
transportation infrastructure, not only for Hoquiam and Aberdeen, but the
entire coast of Washington;
* Bowerman is a vital part of the national aviation system of airports;
* The airport is obligated federally.
Further, the FAA said a new and equally adequate replacement airport would
have to be constructed and operational before release of the present
facility would be considered, and lastly, "Unless the FAA determines closing
of an airport to be in the best interest of aviation, we will take whatever
action we deem appropriate to prevent closure of an obligated airport."
Port Executive Director Gary Nelson, who has been in Spokane at a school
district conference since Wednesday, said the decision was not "totally
unexpected. That's what everybody told us to expect."
When asked for his response to the decision, Nelson said, "I really don't
want to comment. I haven't had a chance to read it. I haven't had time to
discuss it with my staff." He said he didn't have a copy with him.
Lyle Green, who owns Flying Fatboy, the maintenance and fueling business at
the airport, said the decision was "not only no, but hell no."
Billie Klein, former chairwoman of the airport support network at Bowerman,
said she was told by Nelson at the Nov. 14 Port meeting that he hadn't seen
the FAA's response and reiterated that the Port was not talking about
closing the airport.
But Klein said she had already seen the FAA's response letter. "I got a copy
from the FAA, and the first thing I want everybody to know is that the
airport is vitally important for more than just the pilots. We have 12 to 15
businesses using the airport, and the military - Air Force, Navy - and many
business leaders in the Puget Sound come here."
Klein said she has been a compulsive student of the airport's history.
"What's also important to let people know is that when the airport was built
in 1941, it was built to weight-bearing standards, width of runway standards
and taxiway standards. Those same standards are in existence today."
She said she would like to see the airport have a full-time professional
manager and an airport advisory council set up. "The problem is they (the
Port staff) understand so little about aviation, from our perspective."
In his letter, Johnson emphasized that before new airport construction would
be considered, there would be a lengthy time required for state and national
environmental impact acts of analysis and compliance, and "only after a
finding of no significant impact is made under state and federal law that
the construction of a new site could begin."
He said the FAA also looks at the environmental documentation for the
impacts of any proposed use of the property in relation to the adjacent
Johnson continued to emphasize the construction and operation of a new
airport would be the initial requirement.
"The FAA also adamantly opposes the closure of any (national integrated
airport such as Bowerman) that has continuing obligations to the federal
government. Our office has evaluated numerous proposals to close or transfer
ownership of airports, but we have never permitted the closure of an
obligated airport until an equal or better replacement airport was built and
opened by the sponsor. The position at the national level is the same."
In summary, Johnson said: "We have worked closely with the Port in the past
and will continue to work with you to determine airport needs, including
developing an airport capital improvement program to keep Bowerman Field a
viable airport, however we will not consider a release of this airport from
the surplus property and/or grant obligations."
While Nelson declined to say what the next step for the Port will be, Klein
said she already knows.
"I know exactly what they are going to do. They told us they had been in
touch with the Congressional delegation and (the members) could disqualify
the Port from its obligation," said Klein. "The FAA decision can be
overridden by Congressional action."
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