Compass: Airport planning gets much better with community involvement

By MATT CLAMANDecember 10, 2013 

Alaskans expect a clear and transparent public process from their government. The airport will present the Anchorage International Airport Master Plan Update Final Plan for Future Development at 5:30 p.m. today at the Coast International Inn. The new master plan has benefited from an effective public process. Following public comment, the airport plans to publish the complete Master Plan report in early 2014.

The airport's last work on a master plan began in 2006, but it never completed the project. With air traffic reaching an all-time high in 2007, the initial proposal included a new north-south runway. People in the community objected because of impact on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, questioned the necessity for another runway, and complained about the public process that led to the new runway proposal. Passenger and cargo air carriers criticized the projection of air traffic growth and expressed concern about the expense to build another runway without substantial traffic growth. The air carriers believed the new runway was not yet necessary.

Then air traffic declined with the Great Recession in 2008, and Anchorage air traffic has not returned to 2007 levels.

Recognizing concerns with communications between the airport and the community, the acting mayor established the Anchorage Airport Communications Committee in June 2009. Its mission was simple: improve communications between the airport and the community. The committee included elected officials, community council representatives, and municipal staff. Airport manager John Parrott and his staff have been consistent, active participants. The committee met regularly and held facilitated discussions about improving communications.

The discussions led to actions by the community and the airport: the airport makes monthly presentations at the three West Anchorage community council meetings; the public has identified means to communicate with airport staff; and the proposed master plan includes a chapter on communications based on input from the communications committee.

As it began the new master plan process in 2012, the airport recognized that a 2- to 3-year process was too long because it made it more difficult for the public to participate. Instead, the airport committed to complete the process in about one year. Following two introductory public meetings in 2012, the airport formed a master plan working group that included diverse interest groups and a technical advisory committee that represented the industry. Beginning in December 2012, the working group held seven meetings, the technical advisory committee met five times, and the airport hosted a seminar and four additional open houses. With 19 public meetings to date, the public involvement process has been robust.

The proposed master plan differs from past plans because it recognizes that air traffic growth has been slow since 2008. Any potential changes at the airport are demand dependent: any additional infrastructure will be directly related to future traffic growth and airport usage. Major construction is not scheduled because there is no current or projected need for many years. The airlines, engaged throughout this process, support the forecast and this master plan's approach. The plan recognizes the potential for another runway, but there is no proposal to begin work. In the mean time, the airport is focused on increasing the use of existing facilities because more efficient use of those facilities may extend the timeline for any expansion. For example, airport staff is working on a proposal to increase use of one existing east-west runway for takeoffs during times of heavy congestion. The proposal is designed to increase use of existing facilities without expansion.

The Anchorage International Airport is a partner in the economic health of our community. Its master plan should be consistent with community values and accurately describe the airport's purpose.

Having spent considerable time working with the airport and the community to improve communications, I encourage everyone who is interested in the future of our airport to attend the public open house today or the online open house at www.ancmasterplan.com. Your comments and suggestions are welcome because public participation is the key ingredient for an effective master plan.

Matt Claman, a former Assembly member and acting mayor, chairs the Anchorage Airport Communications Committee.

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