Port Angeles port president looks to Lincoln Park tree removal
Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
A rustic cabin sits surrounded by trees in Lincoln Park in Port Angeles on Tuesday. Many of those trees could eventually be removed under a plan to accommodate aircraft landings at nearby William R. Fairchild International Airport.
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Port of Port Angeles commission President John Calhoun believes that agreement is approaching, he said Tuesday at the Port Angeles Business Association's weekly breakfast meeting.
“I am convinced that on the current City Council and the next one after the election, there is positive sentiment to re-establish the full runway width and take the necessary steps at Lincoln Park to do that,” Calhoun said.
“We have the votes on the [port] commission, and we probably have the votes on the City Council.”
Lincoln Park is a city park. The City Council has not voted on a master plan that would include removal of numerous trees on the western boundary of the park across South L Street from the airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration has determined that the trees are cutting off the flight approach to the neighboring port-operated airport, port officials say.
The tree-cutting proposal, opposed as of mid-July by more than 2,000 signers of a petition, would open up an estimated 1,350 feet of the 6,350-foot main runway that the FAA says are now unusable.
Decision by January?
City and port officials, who are in ongoing discussions on the tree-obstruction issue, could come to an agreement on cutting Lincoln Park's trees by mid-January, Calhoun predicted.
There has been movement in that direction on the City Council over the past four weeks.
Councilmen Dan Gase and Patrick Downie and Deputy Mayor Brad Collins said Sept. 17 at a PABA meeting that they support removing the trees to protect the airport's viability.
Councilman Dan Di Guilio said in an interview after Tuesday's meeting that he “probably” would have agreed with his three council colleagues, but with conditions.
“Ultimately, we do need to save the airport, so I probably would have said yes,” Di Guilio said.
“If it means the end of the airport, I would certainly support something to facilitate the ability of planes to land there, but I'd like to find a middle ground to do something with the park because the community has gone through the [master plan] process.”
He suggested the FAA and the port “put up a few dollars” to further develop the master plan.
Councilwoman Sissi Bruch opposed cutting down the trees.
“I do favor that we need to protect our airport, but I don't favor it at the cost of Lincoln Park,” she said Tuesday in an interview.
General election City Council Position 2 candidate Lee Whetham said Monday at a Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon that he favors cutting trees that pose a safety hazard, while his opponent, Peter Ripley, has said he is against it.
Mayor Cherie Kidd, who attended the Tuesday PABA breakfast meeting, said afterward she wants the port to invest in the park.
“We are still in the negotiation phase,” she said.
The $145,513 park master plan, paid for mostly by the port, focuses on the entry area to the park off Lauridsen Boulevard and includes upgraded parking areas, a new trail system, ballfields and the estimated cost of tree removal and revegetation.
The estimated cost of the first phase is $14.3 million.
The master plan presents “a Disneyland scenario, and that's not realistic,” Kidd said.
“I have no idea if we can resolve this in three months, but I'm glad that [Calhoun] is hopeful, and that's encouraging.”
Councilwoman Brooke Nelson would not comment on whether she supported cutting down the trees.
Removing the trees would generate an estimated $500,000 in timber revenue for the city, Calhoun said.
Calhoun said expanding the airport to the west to avoid cutting the stand of trees would cost a minimum of $30 million and require condemnation of two dozen pieces of property.
“I would not vote for that,” he said.
Calhoun told meeting participants it was a “mistake” to develop a master plan for the park.
“That was a political tactical error,” he said.
“The City Council is put into a position, if they approve the master plan, [that] they are approving redevelopment of Lincoln Park at that price tag, and it sets up public expectations that the city is going to do that,” he said, adding that there was “no way” the city could afford to redevelop the park in the image of the master plan.
Di Guilio said the mistake was in not setting boundaries on expansion possibilities.
“There were no considerations about who would pay for things,” he said.
Calhoun said the FAA has agreed to remove obstructive trees, including stumps; revegetate with lower-canopy vegetation; and grade the impacted area.
The FAA would pay the city for a perpetual navigation easement to ensure “perpetual glide path access” to the runway, and the city also would receive the $500,00 value from the downed trees, Calhoun said.
In light of the city's inability to fund redevelopment of Lincoln Park, “we need to reset the discussion” with the city, Calhoun added.
Port Airport and Marina Manager Jerry Ludke said Tuesday that local pilots predict that within three years, the 1,350 feet of runway would have to be expanded to guarantee safe landings.
Calhoun said further limits on runway space could compromise the ability of aircraft such as corporate jets to land at Fairchild.
FAA personnel will conduct the agency's own tests of the flight path before deciding whether the restricted area should be broadened, Ludke said, adding that he does not know when those tests will be conducted.
During his presentation, Calhoun also said he supports both port-sponsored Nov. 5 general election ballot propositions to increase the three-person commission to five members and to cut the commissioners' six-year terms to four years.
Calhoun, a West End resident representing District 3 who is not running for re-election in 2015, said board expansion would result in guaranteed representation from the district that has boundaries that extend from the West End into west Port Angeles.
The propositions are on general election ballots that will be mailed today to voters and must be postmarked by Nov. 5 or delivered to the county Auditor's Office by 8 p.m. Nov. 5
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5060, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: October 15. 2013 5:53PM