FAA requires further environmental study for Juneau airport

Posted: Thursday, July 06, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- Projects that would expand the Juneau International Airport into adjacent wetlands cannot proceed without a full-blown environmental impact statement, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Wednesday.

The added review could delay construction of a runway safety area, an expansion of the airport's eastern aviation area, a snow removal equipment building and an approach lighting system, said Allan Heese, the manager of the city-owned airport.

''We had hoped that the environmental assessment would have been sufficient,'' Heese said, adding that the FAA's decision wasn't a surprise

Because the environmental assessment conducted by the airport shows significant potential impacts, a full environmental impact statement must be prepared by the FAA, agency spokesman John Clabes said.

State and federal resource agencies -- along with local conservationists and hunters -- complained that the assessment of the project didn't fully explore impacts on wildlife habitat.

The most controversial project is a 2,000-foot expansion of the runway safety area into the Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge.

The refuge is popular for bird watching and duck hunting. Also, it contains sloughs that provide productive habitat for fish, including flounder and salmon, said Ben Kirkpatrick, an area habitat biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

''There's a very limited amount of that type of habitat in the general area,'' Kirkpatrick said.

The projects are expected to cost about $11 million, a figure that will increase to accommodate the environmental impact statement, Heese said. The extra money will come from FAA construction funds that would otherwise have been used for other purposes, he said.

The length of the delay is unclear. Airport officials hadn't planned to break ground on the projects until the 2002 construction season anyway, so the added review may not hold up the projects much, Heese said.

However, opponents of the projects looked on the extra review as a favorable sign.

''This is a pretty positive turn of events,'' Laurie Ferguson Craig of Alaskans for Juneau told the Juneau Empire. ''We're looking at a loss of nearly 70 acres of wetlands.''

Supporters of the projects had hoped the FAA's judgment about the airport's assessment would be a finding of no significant environmental impact.

The FAA called for the construction of the 2,000-foot-long runway safety areas as a way to provide a larger margin of error for pilots, who often cope with high winds and uncertain visibility as they land in Juneau.

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