"The safety of the airport is important to us -- we live right here -- but there has to be a balance."
We couldn't agree more with this sentiment from Keith Shaffer, a Kenai resident whose family has lived near the Kenai Municipal Airport since 1987.
The Shaffer family, along with other residents living near the airport, learned recently that their properties include something called an avigation easement -- an easement in which the property owner agrees not to erect any structure to a height that might affect arriving and departing air traffic. Many property owners were not aware such an easement exists.
The issue has come up because, during a recent inspection, the Federal Aviation Administration noted that trees southwest of the runway have become a potential hazard.
The solutions imposed by consultants include removal of trees on airport property, and "selected tree removal on private property with avigation easements."
It's that latter proposal that has residents concerned, and we tend to agree. It's understandable that the FAA would have concerns about the height of trees near runways -- flying in Alaska is difficult enough without having to worry about obstructions on take-off and landing. And trees, unlike other natural obstructions such as mountains or bodies of water, can be cut down.
However, trees also are an important part of people's homes.
"What they're calling obstructions are fixtures in our lives," Shaffer told the Clarion.
In addition to their aesthetic value, trees also provide a physical barrier between the airport and the residential neighborhood beside it. They serve as a buffer, blocking the wind and noise from the runway. They add significantly to the quality of life for people living in those homes.
For all those reasons, we encourage airport officials to take a gentle approach in addressing the issue. Airport Manager Mary Bondurant said it was premature to talk about completely removing the trees, and in fact, an alternative provided by the consultants is that property owners would be given the option of removal or topping on a tree-by-tree basis.
We like this option, and we'd remind folks in Kenai of the lessons learned when the trees in the Kenai cemetery, which also is situated at the end of the runway, grew too tall. After an initial effort to simply top all the trees drew protest, administrators developed a four-year plan to gradually bring all the trees into compliance with FAA regulations, while also pruning the trees so they didn't look like, well, trees with the tops cut off.
This strikes us as a reasonable approach to the issue. It will take more time and effort, and good communication between airport and city administrators and affected residents -- but anything worth doing, is worth doing well, right?
In short: Airport safety is important, but so is the quality of life in neighborhoods adjacent to it. Officials need to take a reasonable, balanced approach when it comes to addressing both of those issues.