Port of Orcas’ master plan progresses

The Port of Orcas began drafting its 20-year master plan in September 2017 and is projected to conclude the document in March 2019. On Wednesday, Jan. 10, the port and project managers held two open house meetings at the Eastsound Fire Hall and an advisory committee meeting comprised of public representatives.

“We want community input because it’s your airport,” Project Manager Leah Henderson said. “We want to include the whole community in the plan.”

Henderson is the manager of aviation planning and design for civil engineering company Dowl, which has been tasked with composing the document. She and Dowl Aviation Planner Jim Griel hosted the events to elicit community feedback. The port will also host meetings in June and then September to provide updates on the project’s progress.

The 20-year master plan is a Federal Aviation Administration requirement that is reviewed every five to 10 years; the last update for Orcas came in 2008. The purpose of the document is to discover the needs of the port.

The possibility of turning the port-owned land that previously housed the dog park into a new, larger terminal and a parking lot was suggested as well.

Airport Manager Tony Simpson said that if a new terminal were to be built, he’d like to see it incorporate an area for future customs and border control use. This would help avoid any retrofitting that would need to be done in the future to accommodate those entities.

The airport, currently deemed a B1 airport, is likely to be recategorized as a B2 airport, requiring a runway width expansion. Airport size categories are dependent on the size of aircraft the facility accommodates. Because the Port of Orcas gets many Cessna Caravans – like those owned and operated by Kenmore Air – it will need to be retrofitted to suit its purpose.

Simpson said that he would like to see the plan address potential sea-level rise and the issues that could cause. At its highest, he said, the uneven runway is just 31 feet above sea-level and at its lowest, 12. A tide gate already exists on the northern end to keep high tides at bay.

County Councilman Rick Hughes, a member of the advisory committee representing the county, said he’d like to see the airport enhance its usefulness by preparing to be an international port or being available to fill the need caused by a ferry system that is nearing its transportation capacity.

Simpson also noted that commercial shipping via air, with companies like FedEx, increased at the airport by 20 percent this year. The building is overflowing when freight and cargo are flown in.

Simpson said companies like Amazon and FedEx “cannot afford to go by ferry.”

“The facilities we have are not really optimized,” he said.

The next meeting and open house will be mid-June. Henderson and Griel hope to have two chapters of the plan completed by then.