Tuesday, February 27, 2001

FAA: Fewer delays with new runway

Public comment being sought on airport proposal

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Federal Aviation Administration says the proposed new runway at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport would be a huge benefit to the airport operationally and financially, and would not raise noise levels significantly. But the agency also says the runway could pollute streams and would displace as many as 564 people.

        Those findings are in a draft copy of the FAA's environmental impact study of the proposed runway, obtained Monday by the Enquirer.

        The report, which consists of five volumes and stands nearly a foot thick, is a major step toward gaining final federal approval for the new north-south runway and an extension of the airport's east-west runway that airport officials hope to open by 2005.

        The report is being sent to 24 locations throughout Greater Cincinnati and should be available by Friday for public viewing, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.

        Those comments will be taken into consideration as the FAA prepares the final version of the report, due at the end of the year.

        Once the FAA releases the final impact study, a “record of decision” — approval or denial of the project — is due within 30 days.

        Airport officials had not yet received their copy Monday, but stressed that it is a draft designed to encourage public comment. The public comment period runs through early May.

        “The important part about the process is that it exists for the public's sake,” said Dale Huber, the airport's deputy aviation director.

        Airport officials are seeking federal approval to build an 8,000-foot north-south runway west of the current two north-south runways, as well as a 2,000-foot extension to the current 10,000-foot east-west runway.

        Preliminary estimates for the two projects are $250 million, including land acquisition costs, which would be paid for by the airport — possibly through bond issues, renegotiated airline landing fees or direct charges to passengers.

        The new strip is being touted as a solution to increased flight delays; and the extension would allow airlines access to Far East markets with larger, heavier airplanes.

        The report backed up the assertion that the runway would reduce delays, saying:

        • Delay times would drop from the current average of 6 minutes per flight to about 3.5 minutes. Without the new runway, delays would increase to 8.5 minutes.

        • The decrease in delays would save the airport and airlines about $70 million in the first year alone.

        The report also says the new runway would improve air quality because fewer delays would mean planes wouldn't idle as long on the tarmac.

        It also says that noise corridors would not change much, with only a small area around the new runway possibly affected. Airport officials said homes inside that area would be acquired anyway because they are in the probable construction zone.

        Ruth Funaro of Burlington, who lives on the edge of the current corridor west of the airport, doesn't believe that sound would stay the same if the current runway is extended.

        “I don't know how I'm going to stand it,” said Mrs. Funaro, 58. “We're right next to the people they say are at 65 decibels, and right now, I have to sleep with two fans to block out the noise. It doesn't matter to me that it's going to make the airport better — it's not going to make my life better.”

        Some of the other impacts listed in the report include:

        • Elimination of 188 residences (affecting 564 people) and a church.

        • Possible runoff into a tributary of Gunpowder Creek.

        • Altering Ky. 20 would affect 6.6 acres of ponds and wetlands, and another 16,300 feet of streams.

        Hebron Baptist Church, which sits in the path of the new runway, has not appraised the value of its building and 5 adjacent acres but has bought land for a possible relocation.

        The report also calls for the airport to mitigate the environmental impacts in several areas, including water quality and historical sights with such things as runoff management plans,concrete culverts and buyout plans.

        “This lays out all the environmental impact that would occur if the proposed project was constructed,” said Jackie Sweatt-Essick, environmental program manager for airports for the FAA's Southern Region, which includes the Cincinnati airport. “And the final version will say that if the airport is going to do this, it will have to undertake these mitigation practices.”

        The FAA report also asks for further justification for the length of the east-west extension sought by the airport, saying that 1,500 or even 1,000 feet may be enough.

        Mr. Huber said airport officials would do everything they could to answer the FAA's questions and fulfill other regulations.

        “This is something the community needs,” Mr. Huber said. “You see what happens at LaGuardia (that airport has the longest average flight delays in the nation) with limited runway space. I'm not envisioning that severe a problem here, but it would definitely mean several markets would not get served” if the proposed runway is turned down.

        Ray Schaefer contributed to this report.

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