Orcas Island Airport Master Plan Overview

by Leah Whitfield

CM, ACE, Aviation Manager

The Orcas Island Airport Master Plan addresses issues with airport design standards and the safety of aircraft and passengers. The airport is being served by a type of aircraft that the airfield was not built to accommodate, and safety standards are being compromised as a result. In addition, the inadequate capacity and deteriorating condition of airport facilities will become an increasing financial burden on the community.

Engaging the community in the MP was very important to the Port. Public involvement included:

• A port website page.

• A postcard sent to each household on the island at the beginning of the project in the fall of 2017 notifying the public of the project start; a brief overview of what a master plan is; the project schedule; and that future communication would be exclusively electronic via email.

• A Project Advisory Committee with members of the Port; Federal Aviation Administration; Washington State Department of Transportation; San Juan County; Emergency Preparedness Response Course; and key tenants on the airfield to provide technical feedback and guidance.

• Open house events for the public to learn about the project (January, June and September 2018).

• A project contact list.

• Project email address: orcasmasterplan@dowl.com.

• Press releases and interviews as needed.

Engagement varied for each meeting. Due to limited participation in the June meeting the comment period was extended by a month prior to the alternative evaluation. The Port held a special meeting in July 2018 to help the public understand the purpose of the master plan and the alternatives, and the deadline for comments extended into August.

The MP inventoried existing conditions; prepared a 20-year aviation forecast; established facility requirements; created three alternatives for future development; prepared a preferred alternative; and an airport layout plan (ALP) and implementation plan.

The preferred alternative took into consideration FAA design standards, public comment, environmental impacts, and financial implications. A no-build option was considered, but financial implications to the Port of repaying past FAA grant funds and the lack of future FAA funds for maintenance and rehabilitation were determined to be unacceptable. The financial burden of preserving facilities in a safe and functional condition would be difficult.

The preferred alternative incorporates input from the advisory committee, residents and stakeholders to minimize the impact of changes while meeting requirements and objectives. Recently one item in the preferred alternative was modified due solely to public comment. Mt. Baker Road will not be relocated as a part of this study. It is still an incompatible land use and safety hazard, and those issues will need to be addressed in a future study. There is a misconception that the road was being relocated to extend the runway. The runway pavement is not being extended; it will be reduced by 133 feet. However, existing pavement will be marked properly resulting in a gain of 354 feet of useable runway pavement.

Chapters 1-4 are available for public comment at www.portoforcas.com/master-plan/. Once Chapters 5 and 6 are approved they will also be made available. The draft report will be available for comment for 30 days, likely early 2020.

For more information contact me, LEah Whitfield, at lwhitfield@dowl.com.