Port master plan progresses

The Port of Orcas’ master plan is approximately two-thirds of the way toward completion.

Leah Henderson from Alaska-based civil engineering company Dowl hosted two public houses and gave a presentation to the port board of commissioners on Sept. 19 and 20.

“The master plan study is just that, it’s a study, it’s not a physical project, we’re not building anything out of this. It’s a plan that’s going to develop the purpose of need moving forward, (and) determine how we can or cannot comply with FAA design standards and safety standards,” Henderson told the board. “We’ll make any changes prior to any design project happening and, obviously, prior to any construction taking place.”

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

Henderson is the manager of aviation planning and design for Dowl, which has been tasked with composing the document.

“The overall project is on schedule,” Henderson said. “We will present the alternatives chapter to them, hopefully by early November at the latest, but we need to get through this public meeting. … Get the draft preferred alternative turned into a preferred alternative, then we can finalize the chapter, send it to Tony [Simpson, port manager] then onto the FAA for final review.”

The presentations given by Henderson at both the board meeting and the two open houses are on the port’s website. They are still accepting public comment on the firm’s design decisions. When the draft preferred alternatives are published, the public will also have 30 days to comment on those suggestions as well.

Changes to the draft alternatives include references to resolution accepted by four of the five commissioners – one, Brian Ehrmantraut, was unable to attend the meeting. The board unanimously agreed – Ehrmantraut signed later – stating that the board does not have any interest to pursue eminent domain to acquire property from port neighbors. This includes Brandt’s Landing Marina to the northeast of the airport. Many feared it would be purchased and removed.

“It’s a permanent record. It’ll end up in the state archives. That, I think, is a value that it provides to the public permanent record of your thoughts and feelings of eminent domain,” said Simpson.

Henderson said she has been talking with the owners of the marina about future development plans and the port potentially purchasing part of the property.

“That land is restricted by the airport overlay zone, and they cannot build anything so it’s really not useful land to them so it sounds like there is potential for interest for that parcel to be acquired more quickly than any of the other parcels,” Henderson said. “We looked at so many different solutions. I know the public is really concerned with the taxiway moving there. I know Brandt’s Landing is really important, so we considered every alternative possible before our first public meeting in June. Then, in August, we spent many hours redrawing and drawing the taxiway trying to see what works and what doesn’t work.”

Other ideas on the draft alternatives plan include moving the taxiway farther to the east, widening and shortening the runway. The proposal includes eventually rerouting Mt. Baker Road around the runway protection zone to the south of the airport.

“(The FAA) knows it might take 20 years for it to happen, but you all need to work with the county and property owners to try to make it happen,” Henderson said.

In January, Project Manager Leah Henderson led an open house to elicit community feedback regarding the airport’s future. There was a second meeting in June wherein Henderson updated the community on the plan’s progress.

Once the draft alternatives have been approved, there will be a National Environmental Policy Act study performed that will review the impacts of the proposed alternatives which will, when approved, be incorporated into the airport layout plan.

“So, you’ve accepted federal monies and therefore you’re tied to those grant assurances, and so we need to ensure that future development does not happen that prevents the standards from being met in the future. And the port needs to demonstrate a continued effort to achieve that plan,” Henderson said. “[The FAA] knows it’s not going to happen overnight, they know that there’s potential for property acquisition that’s not going to happen overnight. … So, it’s just that continued effort to move forward to meeting those standards.”

To view all of the maps related to the master plan and to make a comment of your own, visit http://www.portoforcas.com/master-plan/.