By Michael Howell
Consultants from Robert Peccia and Associates, the engineering firm hired to revise the Environmental Assessment (EA) for planned improvements at the Ravalli County Airport, held what they called a “kick-off meeting” last week to explain the process to the county commissioners and take questions and input before launching into the new project.
An EA was previously conducted by another engineering firm. That EA, which identified one of several options as the preferred plan, did gain the approval of the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the Board of County Commissioners decided that the designated preferred option was not the best option and refused to publish the Record of Decision and Finding of No Significant Impact rendered by the FAA. Instead they sent the project back to the drawing board for review, and enlisted the aid of the current company to produce an updated EA. The cost of the revision process is estimated to be about $75,000.
Rick Donaldson from Robert Peccia and Associates told the commissioners that the updating process will proceed in three phases, a scoping process, an inventory and forecasting phase, and then the production of a revised EA. He said that the FAA wanted to see the forecasting of future airport use and needs revisited as well as the methods involved. They will be looking at flight data and the history of fuel use at the airport. He said a survey was planned of bigger aircraft users about their projected use.
Donaldson said that some alternatives “that don’t make sense” may be dropped and further alternatives may be developed if called for. He said new project cost estimates will also be developed.
Environmental Specialist for the company, Dan Norderud, said that the FAA was adamant about not starting the process until the initial forecasts were reviewed and the outcome of that should drive any revisions. They will also be reviewing and responding to comments in the original EA that went unaddressed. Some things need no further study, he said, such as the supplemental studies concerning cultural, biological and socio-economic impacts. He said a lot of previous data would be used. But he also noted that the FAA definitely wants a new introduction written that will spell out why a new draft is being issued.
Donaldson said that once a preliminary version is prepared it will be brought before the board for their consideration and input before a draft is prepared for release to the public. After that a public hearing will be scheduled. Public comments will be reviewed prior to producing a final draft. He said the final draft might be ready by next April, although it depends on how long the FAA takes in its review and also on how long it takes users to respond to the survey.