Matanuska-Susitna Borough

Assembly awards contract for regional airport

Mat-Su | Patty Sullivan | Monday, March 06, 2006

PALMER—Aircraft touch down on 137 landing areas, mostly private, in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The MAT-SU has such a fascination with flight that it has the highest concentration of public and private airports in the nation, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. More private airports exist but their location ns are not known nor registered with the FAA, according to Matt Freeman, with the FAA in Anchorage. Also, some public lakes that are used as seaplane bases have not been registered either, Freeman said. The FAA has given a $673,858 grant to the Borough, in part, to compile a complete inventory of airports. The list will address issues such as airspace requirements and potential conflicts in order to ensure aviation safety. Alongside that dense concentration of airstrips is booming growth, as state Economist Neal Fried describes it. Between the years 2000 and 2004, the MAT-SU's population grew by 18 percent. "There's no question that growth is pushing this," said Borough Planning Director Murph O'Brien. "What we're hoping is through this effort to be proactive in resolving conflicts before they arise. The study recognizes the economic importance and lifestyle significance of aviation in the MAT-SU Borough," O'Brien said. Last night, the MAT-SU Assembly awarded a $590,786 contract to DOWL Engineers to develop a Regional Airport System Plan as well as to find potential location ns for public airports and floatplane facilities. DOWL will be responsible for research and analysis, preparation of goals, detailed recommendations, and a final plan. Palmer area Assemblyman Bill Allen supports the study. "As air traffic increases it's obvious that there needs to be control regarding the air space and enforcement of rules. The study, I think, is going to identify the private airstrips, both land and water, in order to make sure that flightways are open as congestion increases." Some local pilots have expressed support for the study and interest in becoming members of pertinent committees. "We are trying to avoid a common situation where a long-established airport, such as the Ted Stevens International, is infringed upon by subdivision developments. Now the airport is spending millions of dollars in dealing with noise issues by retrofitting homes with sound-proofing materials. We're hoping to be ahead of the game," O'Brien said. "With growth, there have been many new private airstrips constructed, as well as development that infringes on some existing air parks," O'Brien said. "One of the major points of the plan is to bring the different user groups together to productively address potential conflicts before they happen. "A major component of the plan will determine whether the MAT-SU needs more public landing areas, likely public floatplane bases in the developing parts of the Borough. The Borough has seven public airports among the 137 known landing areas. "To get a slip at Lake Hood, you have to practically inherit it," said Borough Manager John Duffy, remarking on a busy Anchorage floatplane base. Duffy said the location n of the proposed public floatplane base would likely be on a large lake. Point MacKenzie, Fish Creek, (west of the Little Susitna River) and Trapper Creek, are among the considered sites. So far, only the immediate Port area is ruled out because of cargo cranes. "The lands can be reserved now so the Borough is not scrambling to acquire property in ten to 20 years," O'Brien said. DOWL Engineers earned the highest evaluation scores among the four firms that made bids. "DOWL has an aviation planning and design group that's experienced in developing airport master and systems plans throughout Alaska," O'Brien said. The FAA is paying the bulk of the cost. The MAT-SU Borough is required to provide matching funds in the amount of $35,466, with the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities picking up half of that at $17,733. For more information, contact Planning Director Murph O'Brien at (907) 745-9851.