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Airport Goes, Trees Stay?

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Staff member
Apr 12, 2010
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Old Growth Forest In Conflict With Duluth Sky Harbor Airport Safety

Fri, 27 Aug '10 by Aero News

Some On City Council Say Land-Based Runway Should Be Closed
The city of Duluth, MN has for two years been looking for a way to reconcile safety at Duluth Sky Harbor Airport (KDYT) with the encroachment of hundreds of trees in a nearby old-growth pine forest into the airport's flight path.

The city has spent nearly $900,000 to study the issue, and has determined that the two best options for reconciling the problem would involve cutting or trimming hundreds of trees in the forest. But two members of the city council say a third solution ... closing the land runway at Sky Harbor and keeping it open only as a seaplane base ... should also be kept on the table.
The Duluth News-Tribune reports that councilors Sharla Gardner and Kerry Gauthier have asked the city to determine what it would cost to close the airport. "If the plan is to keep Sky Harbor open at the expense of the pine forest, this community will not respond favorably, because that pine forest is a gem," Gardner said. "If too many trees are cut, it could have an impact on the whole forest," Gauthier added. He said he is looking at any way to save as many trees as possible.
Both options deemed best by the city council would mean that the runway would be shortened by 400 feet, and extended into the bay to move it back from the forest. One would require construction of an entirely new runway. But if the FAA strictly enforces height requirements in the transition zone, over 800 trees would have to be removed or shortened in the least expensive option open to the council. Some experts say topping the trees leaves them open to damage from insects and disease, which could eventually affect the entire forest.

Of course, the FAA rarely sees closing an airport as being an attractive option.
In letters to the city council provided to ANN by a Duluth resident, Duluth Airport Authority Executive Director Bryan Ryks tells the body that among the open questions associated with the issue are whether the FAA will allow some of the trees to remain due to the investment the city has made in erecting obstruction lights to protect the trees in the transition zone. He says the study has not yet determined how many trees would be cut or topped, and that the concerns raised by the Duluth Tree Commission about the adverse effects of topping the trees "appears to be made on misconceptions and generalizations." "When the tree study is complete, the DAA will continue to work with the technical team of forestry and ecology specialists to determine where and if tree impacts will occur and what the overall forest effect would be," he writes.

Ryks goes on to say that the $2.7 million it is estimated to cost to close the land runway does not take into account "lease buyouts, repayment of state grants, repayment of federal grants, and restoration of the site." He says if the airport is to be closed, the city will bear the entire cost of the closure, but if the runway is moved, the FAA will fund 95% of the improvement costs.
In a separate letter to the council, the Duluth Tree Commission talks about the removal of windbreak trees that protect the older trees ... some over 200 years old ... in the forest. They also say that cutting the trees is only a temporary solution, as "trees will continue to grow in the airspace." But a main thrust of their argument seems to be the number of people they perceive as using the airport compared to the number of people who use the forest for recreation. "The feature that makes this airport unique is the ability to change from floats to wheels," writes Tree Commission Chair Christine Penny. "All other aircraft can utilize the Duluth International Airport. We have been told that 50 planes a year utilize the switch-over feature. We would venture to say that probably 50 people A DAY (emphasis hers) utilize the pine forest."

Ryks counters that argument saying there are about 13,000 operations per year at the airport, according to FAA records, which works out to about 36 operations per day. "As a result, the airport usage is significantly more than 50 individual per year as she makes reference to in her correspondence."
Ryks also points out that the airport is a U.S. Customs Point of Entry, is convenient to a nearby business park, and has an economic impact of $1.4 million per year.
That argument seemed to have traction with councilor Todd Fedora, who is a former airport authority commissioner. He said that closing the airport is "an absolute non-starter." He said closing the airport would mean less cash coming in, as well as more expense to the city.

FMI: www.duluthmn.gov, www.duluthairport.com, www.duluthmn.gov/treecommission

I wonder how much higher the "old growth" forest grew since the airport was constructed?

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