Only five members of the public showed up at the public hearing held last Wednesday evening to take public comment on the Draft Environmental Assessment of proposed improvements to the Ravalli County Airport.
According to the draft EA, work on an Airport Layout Plan and Master Plan was begun in 1996 but never completed. The effort was abandoned by mutual agreement between the County and the Federal Aviation Administration in 2001 due to lack of progress.
A 2002 effort to update the ALP revisited the recommended improvement concept from the 1996 Master Plan effort but dropped the concept in favor of new design configurations. Notably, two improvement concepts were identified that would provide a new 5,200‐foot‐long runway with either 240 feet or 400 feet of lateral separation distance between the runway and parallel taxiway. This planning effort resulted in an ALP that indicated a future 5,200-foot‐long runway shifted 400 feet east and 600 feet north of existing Runway 16/34. The ALP was accepted by Ravalli County and approved by the FAA in June 2003 on the condition that relocating and extending Runway 16/34 could not be done without environmental review and approval.
In July 2003, Ravalli County began work on a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Assessment (EA) to evaluate the potential environmental effects associated with improvements to primarily meet FAA design standards for runway to taxiway separation, comply with FAA guidance for recommended runway length, and address obstructions to FAR Part 77 airspace and runway approaches. Numerous versions of the Draft EA for the airport were prepared between 2003 and 2008. In November 2008, a Final Draft EA was released for public review. This document was never finalized.
In August 2009, Ravalli County determined additional analysis of the 2008 Draft EA was needed. The County requested: an update to the aviation forecasts; an evaluation of additional alternatives identified in the 1996 Master Plan and 2002 ALP planning effort; a review of potential relocation options; and a study of two additional development alternatives. In June 2010, a revised Final Draft EA was released. A public hearing was held on August 31, 2010. Responses to comments received were incorporated into a Final EA dated November 2010. The Final EA was accepted by Ravalli County on November 17, 2010 and submitted to the FAA for a final environmental determination. In March 2011, the FAA prepared a draft Finding of No Significant Impact and Record of Decision (FONSI/ROD) for relocating Runway 16/34 and the decision document was made available for public review beginning on April 6, 2011.
Some members of the newly elected County Commission held different opinions about the proposed airport development project at RCA and meetings were subsequently held in early 2011 to receive additional public comments and consider the implications of moving forward. On May 5, 2011, the Commission requested the FAA take no further action regarding the environmental determination because the Proposed Action in the Final EA did not adequately address the future needs of the airport – primarily in the areas of runway length, apron space and hangar development space. As a result, Ravalli County chose to undertake additional airport planning in 2011 to review current aviation activity at RCA, develop forecasts of future aviation activity, and elaborate on facility needs based on FAA design standards, policies, and guidance.
This effort led to the current proposal and associated EA, which continues to be controversial despite the light turn out at the public hearing.
The Proposed Action includes several major components:
- • Construct a 5,200‐foot‐long by 75‐foot‐wide runway on a 17/35 orientation parallel to the existing runway. Shift the threshold of the new runway about 1,550 feet to the north and move it 400 feet east of the existing runway;
- • Acquire approximately 126 acres of land for airport development;
- • Acquire or rezone up to 113 acres of land for compatible land use (for the 65 DNL boundary outside of the minimum required land acquisition);
- • Install wildlife fence around the perimeter of the newly acquired airport property;
- • Relocate a portion of Stock Farm Road out of the RPZ;
- • Convert existing runway into a “partial parallel taxiway” for the new layout;
- • Perform preliminary grading and earthwork necessary to eventually extend the partial parallel taxiway to the end of Runway 17;
- • Pave a portion of ultimate parallel taxiway (from the 16 end of the existing runway approximately 800 feet north to the first taxiway connector); the ultimate paving and lighting of the parallel taxiway north of the connector is beyond the planning period considered for this document; ‐9
- • Construct taxiway connectors from new runway to partial parallel taxiway;
- • Install a new MIRL system for Runway 17/35;
- • Install new NAVAIDS – windcone, segmented circle, and beacon;
- • Relocate or replace the County‐owned PAPIs;
- • Remove the existing runway lighting system and NAVAIDS as the new runway becomes available for use;
- • Install new taxiway edge lighting;
- • Reconstruct, reconfigure, and/or expand aprons and aircraft parking areas to increase capacity, efficiency and provide opportunities for future development;
- • Remove trees posing obstructions to runway approaches; and
- • Amend the existing instrument approach and departure procedures at RCA.
Construction of the Proposed Action is projected to be completed between 2014 and 2018 and would likely be implemented in stages and with multiple FAA grants. Land acquisition for the proposed improvements at RCA would begin in 2014 and construction activities would begin in 2015. Exact timing of the individual improvements will vary based on many factors, but primarily, it will depend upon the availability of FAA and county funding.
Due to the distance between the existing and proposed runway, the existing runway would generally remain in service when the new runway is being built. After the new runway is built, the existing 75‐foot‐wide runway would be converted for use as a partial parallel taxiway. Limited runway closures would be required while connecting the new runway to the partial parallel taxiway.
The public comment period expires June 30 and written comments must be postmarked no later than June 28. Comments may be sent to:
Daniel M. Norderud, AICP
Environmental Studies Division Manager
Robert Peccia & Associates, Inc.
P.O. Box 5653
Helena MT 59604
or email firstname.lastname@example.org (attention Ravalli County Airport)
Copies should be sent to:
Ravalli County Commissioners
Attention: County Airport
215 S. 4th Street, Suite A
Hamilton MT 59840
or email email@example.com (attention Ravalli County Airport).