PORT ANGELES — Port of Port Angeles Commissioner Jim McEntire urged cutting trees in Lincoln Park soon because of the possibility of the William R. Fairchild International Airport losing grant funding due to a decline in the use of Kenmore Air’s passenger service.
“What tops my list is to get the trees down in Lincoln Park,” which is adjacent to the airport, McEntire said.
McEntire told an audience at a Port Angeles Business Association meeting Tuesday that port personnel have realized the airport likely would not meet this year the 10,000 enplanements required by the Federal Aviation Administration to remain eligible for grant funding.
The first-quarter numbers of people boarding Kenmore Air planes at the airport bound for Boeing Field in Seattle dropped below 2010 numbers for the same time period — 2,457 people this year compared with 2,785 in the first quarter of 2010.
For all of 2010, the airline barely made the boarding minimum, with 10,183 passengers taking off from Port Angeles, and port officials have said they don’t expect to meet the requirement in 2011.
Lose annual funding
What that means is the airport would lose about $1 million in grant funding annually from the FAA — and must quickly use the federal money it has received so far.
So, McEntire said, he and other port commissioners hoped to speed up the process of cutting the trees and redeveloping the park — using federal money.
In 2008, about 350 trees were cut down in Lincoln Park — mostly in a former campground — because they were in the immediate approach to the runway.
Since then, port and city of Port Angeles officials have been collaborating on a long-term plan to redevelop the park and remove most of the trees, which port officials have said continue to grow into the approach zone of the runway.
In bad weather, when pilots can’t see the trees on the east-side approach, they swing out and around to approach the airport from the west side.
Taking down trees “is a significant enabler to using GPS so airplanes don’t have to take a 15- or 20-minute out-of-the-way route so they can land in adverse weather conditions,” McEntire said.
“Every time Kenmore does that, they lose revenue.”
Taking down trees is intended to accommodate increased numbers of corporate jets as well as provide additional runway length.
Kenmore could — and likely would — continue to fly in and out of Port Angeles whether the trees come down or not, said Craig O’Neill, marketing manager for Kenmore, which flies nine-passenger aircraft between Fairchild and Seattle’s Boeing Field, with ground shuttle service to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
Save airline money
Cutting down trees in Lincoln Park would help the airline by saving it money, but O’Neill couldn’t quantify how much it would save in fuel costs.
“It would be a significant benefit to us,” he said.
“That being said, even if no tree is cut, we would continue to fly here.
“That isn’t going to make or break whether we fly in and out of Port Angeles.”
Selling the timber would probably pay for the logging but not for planting new trees and making the park into something new and usable, said Jeff Robb, port executive director, who attended the meeting.
“The redevelopment of the park would be the significant cost,” he said.
“We want to transform it. But we would also be in a lawsuit if we just did a clear-cut.
“We want to transform it into a much more attractive place,” Robb said.
Using federal money comes with rules. The planning process before cutting down trees requires at least four public meetings and other requirements, Robb said.
“It would likely be at least two years before any chain saw started up in there,” he said.
Nathan West, Port Angeles director of community and economic development, told the group that the city — which is collaborating with the city on the Lincoln Park planning process — is looking into other options.
If local funding were used instead of federal funds, the permitting process would take between 30 to 60 days, he said.
McEntire said the airport is essential to the area’s future.
“The airport is not a money maker,” he said. “It is almost a utility that the port provides.
“That comes with a lot of capital projects — widening of taxiways, repairs, hangars — and that is what we use that federal money for.”
_________Reporter Paige Dickerson can be reached at 360-417-3535 or at email@example.com.