A 1,000-foot runway extension is back in consideration for the Tacoma Narrows Airport, three months after the contentious idea was dropped.
Pierce County Councilman Rick Talbert requested at a Nov. 25 committee meeting that the runway extension be returned to a draft of the airport’s master plan.
“It doesn’t mean necessarily that I think we should move forward with an expansion,” Talbert said in an interview Thursday. “I am concerned that we may be limiting ourselves in the future by not at least allowing that option to be included in the master plan.”
Pierce County announced in September it would remove the runway extension from the master plan after neighbors said they didn’t want it.
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Talbert’s request has restored the extension to the draft document so the council can discuss it.
The revised plan will be part of an economic and infrastructure development committee meeting Tuesday. Public comment will be heard.
The runway extension is the most controversial part of the plan meant to guide growth and development over the next 20 years at the airport at the southern end of the Gig Harbor peninsula.
Neighbors of the airport are concerned that merely including the extension in the plan guarantees future growth of the runway. They believe extending the runway 1,000 feet to the west, crossing over Stone Drive Northwest, would hurt surrounding property values.
County officials have repeatedly said inclusion in the master plan doesn’t make a runway extension inevitable.
In fact, the county says there’s no indication air traffic will grow enough over the next two decades to warrant a longer runway.
But officials want to identify land for a potential runway extension so they can protect nearby airspace and prevent the construction of intrusive cellphone towers and tall buildings. In doing so, they would expand an existing airspace protection zone in the wooded area west of Stone Drive Northwest.
Based on public comments, the county’s department of Public Works and Utilities recommended removing the runway extension from the draft plan.
That decision didn’t sit well with Talbert, a Tacoma Democrat.
“I got the impression, based on some input from some folks, that staff decided that politically it would be easier to just remove it,” he said. “I think a decision of that magnitude should be made by the council.”
Councilman Stan Flemming, a Gig Harbor Republican, said the extension was removed after he said it would be “dead on arrival.”
At the time, he believed the community and the Tacoma Narrows Airport Advisory Commission didn’t support the extension, he said. He later learned the advisory commission wants it.
All but one member of a separate advisory committee also supported putting the runway extension in the master plan. This committee was established specifically to update the master plan.
Flemming said he’s waiting to see what is said at this Tuesday’s meeting before deciding how to move forward.
Donald Veal is one neighbor who was vocal during the master plan update. After having their concerns addressed in September, he and other neighbors are upset by what appears to be a reversal by the county.
“The airport has absolutely no justification to increase the length of the runway,” he wrote in a Dec. 3 email to County Council members, citing air traffic projections.
A date hasn’t been set for a County Council vote on the draft plan, but Talbert said it will likely be after Jan. 1. He hopes to keep the plan at the committee level to continue the conversation, he said.
If the council opts to keep the runway extension in the plan, separate land-use actions may be required, said Deb Wallace, the county’s airport and ferry administrator.
That includes updating both the county’s comprehensive plan and the Gig Harbor community plan and requesting modification to a conditional use permit previously awarded when the tunnel over Stone Drive near the airport was built.
There is no deadline for when the airport master plan must be completed. After council approval, it will be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration.