Pierce County officials are keen on having the public involved when it comes to weighing in on the future of the Tacoma Narrows Airport.
This will be the first master plan since Pierce County assumed ownership of the airport from Tacoma in 2008. The City of Tacoma completed the last master plan in 2003.
The first of five planned open houses — including an hour-long question and answer session — was held last Wednesday at Goodman Middle School regarding updating the airport’s master plan, which the county started to develop late last year. The plan will identify potential airport projects, viable alternatives and possible environmental impacts, and it will recommend a realistic plan of action for the next 20 years.
About 30 people attended, and several officials embraced public involvement in the process.
“Thank you very much for being here tonight,” said County Airport and Ferry Administrator Deb Wallace. “We have quite an opportunity with this airport.”
Part of that opportunity is a chance to ask the public how the airport should be used and developed, Wallace said.
The economic value of the airport is tremendous, she said, and that’s why the county is pushing to have a “major public interactive process.”
“We’re very excited about this project,” said Warren Hendrickson, aviation and ferry planner with Pierce County Public Works and Utilities.
He called public outreach and community involvement in the project “vital” and explicitly invited comments.
“We’re glad you’re here, because we want to explain the process,” said Wendy Renier, senior airport planner with WHPacific, the architecture and engineering company the county is working with on the design phase of the airport.
Those comments were echoed by Al Abbott, owner of CarrotStick Marketing in Gig Harbor, which is working with the county on the master plan.
“We don’t have a lot of time, but we’re interested in your opinion,” he said.
Outside of open houses, officials plan to keep the public in the loop via newsletters, websites and advertisements.
A major part of the master plan process likely will involve lengthening the runway an additional 600 to 1,000 feet. The existing runway is 5,002 feet.
Such an increase would allow business jets to depart fully fueled, increasing their nonstop range. Currently, many business jets can’t take off fully fueled.
Each time a jet stops for additional fuel, cycle costs — an additional takeoff and landing — add several hundreds of dollars in fuel and time.
“It’s very expensive,” Wallace said.
Increasing business jet traffic would be good for the airport, she said.
“Traffic of that class ... brings economic benefits,” she said.
She emphasized the county is focusing on business jet traffic, not commercial airliners. Some airport neighbors fear a longer runway will be an invitation for airlines to begin service at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.
Officials said the overall goals for updating the airport’s master plan include utilizing the facility as an instrument of economic growth; accommodating demand for use of the airport; operational sustainability; preserving and protecting the county’s investment in the airport; and enhancing the facility’s safety and security.
The master plan is tentatively scheduled to take about 18 months, with Federal Aviation Administration approval of forecasts in May, the county’s selection of a preferred development alternative in November, completion of the draft report in March 2014 and publishing the final report in May 2014.