The Kalispell City Council voted 6-3 at its July 19 meeting to approve a federal planning grant to study future options for improvements at the city airport. As part of the grant, the city will pay 5 percent, or $4,890, through the Airport Tax Increment District and the Federal Aviation Administration will pay 95 percent, or $92,910, for the study.
“It’s almost like we’re back at square one,” City Manager Jane Howington said of the plan to improve the airport, which has grown into one of the most contentious issues handled by the city as west side residents have long complained about the noise and safety hazards of the airport’s location and operating hours.
“We have to kind of overcome a lot of that and get everybody’s focus back to the beginning,” she said.
The study, expected to last around 18 months, will include five public meetings, a noise study, updates of airport information and aviation forecasts, an environmental overview, the development of a capital improvement plan related to the airport and the maintenance of a new website on the airport and the ongoing study. It will also include public surveys of citizens’ opinions of the airport and any proposed changes.
In prior meetings and deliberation, city council members have indicated that they do not wish to expand the airport’s runway, the prospect of which has drawn opposition out of concern bigger, louder planes would begin to use the airport. But Howington said certain improvements remain necessary at the airport, even if it doesn’t expand, like a resurfaced runway, better lighting system and a complete perimeter fence, among other needs.
At the end of the study, the council will be presented with, “two preferential scenarios that seem most likely,” for improving the airport, Howington said. She speculated that those two scenarios would likely be making some improvements to the airport while keeping it the same size – with one option using FAA funding, and another where the city would pay for improvements on its own, allowing Kalispell to maintain more control over the facility.
Stelling Engineers will conduct the study.
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