Proposal for longer runway at Tacoma Narrows Airport grounded again

A proposed 1,000-foot runway extension at the Tacoma Narrows Airport has again been nixed.

For the second time in three months, Pierce County says the proposed extension would not be part of its draft master plan for the 568-acre airport.

This time, five Pierce County Council members agreed to remove it during Tuesday’s meeting of the infrastructure and economic development committee.

Reversing his position from two weeks ago, County Councilman Rick Talbert now supports the removal.

“For me it’s always been about the process and how decisions are made and who makes those decisions,” the Tacoma Democrat said during Tuesday’s meeting.

At the same committee’s Nov. 25 meeting, Talbert asked the extension be restored to the draft document. At the time, he thought county staff had bowed to pressure from residents who don’t want the extension.

But after meeting with county staff Friday, he learned there were more reasons for the removal.

For one, air traffic forecasts for the next 20 years do not justify extending the runway.

Additionally, the Gig Harbor community plan and a permit for the Stone Drive NW tunnel would have to be updated before a runway extension could be added to the county comprehensive plan. Those updates require a lengthy public process, including public hearings.

The county is currently updating its comprehensive and community plans. The runway expansion is not part of those updates, said Deb Wallace, the county’s ferry and airport administrator.

Had the council been told about the various reasons not to pursue a runway extension, “we could have avoided all of this,” Talbert said Tuesday.

By “all of this,” he meant people upset about the prospect of a longer runway, some of whom showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to speak.

Gig Harbor resident Brian Bunker said more than 325 people signed a petition against the runway extension last week after learning it could be restored to the plan. Even now, he said neighbors will be vigilant to make sure it’s not added back in the future.

“We will monitor this issue closely and will mount a formidable resistance should plans to extend the runway persist or modifications to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan allow for the same,” Bunker wrote in an email to the County Council after the meeting. He was the neighborhood representative to the advisory group tasked with updating the airport plan.

Not everyone who spoke Tuesday opposes putting a runway extension in the master plan.

“This is an economic development opportunity for the entire county,” said Dennis Cunneen, who served with Bunker on the advisory committee and also sits on the county’s Tacoma Narrows Airport Advisory Commission.

“The county’s needs should be predominant here,” Cuneen said.

The County Council is expected to vote on the airport draft master plan at a meeting in January. A date has not been set. Once approved, the draft will be sent to the Federal Aviation Administration.