After hearing from concerned neighbors, Pierce County removed language from its draft plan for the Tacoma Narrows Airport near Gig Harbor that would have allowed for an eventual runway expansion.
The change was welcome news to those around the airport who opposed any possible expansion of the county-owned facility.
“I am glad that the county representatives and staff that were at the last public meeting recognized it was in the best interest of the public not to do that,” said Brian Bunker, who lives in the nearby Discovery Point neighborhood.
Bunker was on the county’s advisory committee as a neighborhood representative during the airport master plan update. The plan will guide the airport’s growth and development over the next 20 years.
Throughout the planning process neighbors expressed concerns about expanding the airport’s protection zone. The zone would have preserved additional airspace around the airport from intrusions like cellphone towers and tall buildings.
Ultimately it was the neighborhood concerns that prompted the county’s department of Public Works and Utilities to recommend the protection zone be removed from the plan.
Deb Wallace, the county’s airport and ferry administrator, repeatedly said through the process that there wasn’t enough air traffic to justify a runway expansion in the near future. But that wasn’t enough to calm neighborhood fears that the airport would one day grow, causing a decline in neighboring property values.
There is still a possibility that the airport could expand, but any move in that direction would require significant additional public comment and participation. The process would include changing the county’s community plan for unincorporated Gig Harbor that states the community does not support an extension and amending a permit that allowed a tunnel over Stone Drive.
With 5,002 feet of runway and a location at the edge of the peninsula overlooking the Tacoma Narrows bridges, the airport is suited for private pilots and smaller commuter jets. It also offers space for 13 businesses including aviation mechanics, custom hangar builders, a restaurant and a pet boarding facility.
It’s also the home base for 132 aircraft. That’s the same number it had in 1990 — down from its peak of 200 from 1997 to 2004.
The county wants those numbers to rise again, and believes its long-range plan will help.
The plan outlines adding septic systems and seeking private tenants to redevelop aging hangars. It also identifies land that could be sold or purchased around the 567-acre site.
The county began work on its master plan in January 2013. Public input and feedback from the aviation community, businesses and local and state government helped shape the document.
The plan will be presented to Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy and the Pierce County Council this fall before being sent to the Federal Aviation Administration by early 2015 for its approval.