FAA considering less-invasive Sky Harbor options

FAA considering less-invasive Sky Harbor options

The number of Park Point pine trees on the chopping block because of Federal Aviation Administration concerns may have been greatly reduced.

By: Lisa Baumann, Duluth News Tribune

  • Sky Harbor Airport

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    The Federal Aviation Association has become increasing concerned about trees encroaching into the flight-path area at Sky Harbor Airport at the end of Duluth’s Park Point. (File photo)

The number of Park Point pine trees on the chopping block because of Federal Aviation Administration concerns may have been greatly reduced.
Christine Penney, chairwoman for the city’s Tree Commission said that was good news as she presented an update at the city’s Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday night.
She told city councilors and about 100 people who attended the meeting that FAA officials weighed in again two days ago, saying trees in the “transition” area of the flight path at the Sky Harbor Airport — which includes hundreds of trees — might not need to be touched.
“We still want to be assured of this,” she said. “Removal/topping in the transitional zone would require the removal/topping of 834 trees and 707 trees, respectively, and would most certainly destroy the Park Point pine forest.”

The FAA has repeatedly voiced concerns about trees encroaching into the flight path at the airport. As part of an $873,000 study funded by the FAA and the Minnesota Department of Transportation, researchers have been weighing options that could bring the airport back into the feds’ good graces. That study has narrowed 13 options down to two, both of which previously had involved cutting hundreds of trees in a neighboring old-growth forest.
The first of the two alternatives at $3.9 million involves shifting the runway away from the forest and building a runway extension into the bay between the airport and Park Point Recreation Area. In light of the latest word from the FAA, 193 trees would need to be removed or have the tops trimmed.

The other alternative under consideration involves reconstructing the runway to shift slightly away from the forest to the southwest at a cost of approximately $5.6 million. The number of trees affected would be limited to 43, according to Penney.
Members of the Tree Commission also reported that the FAA would allow the trees in the transitional area provided there is mitigation. It was suggested that existing light poles might qualify.
A third alternative discussed recently has been to do nothing regarding the trees, which would result in the closure of the airport due to safety issues.
While City Councilor Sharla Gardner talked about this idea last week, she said Thursday she just wanted to gather information about it.

“It’s not true that I want to close the airport,” she said. “I just want the best outcome.”
Earlier in the meeting, Gardner apologized for an e-mail she sent to a few constituents that was forwarded to the entire council.
In the e-mail, about saving the trees near Sky Harbor Airport, she claims other councilors may be backing off “because the monied interests are closing ranks and some councilors are worried about being re-elected. If they are that easily scared off, I question whether or not it’s worth re-electing them.”
Gardner said she had personally apologized to those involved and they had been gracious about it.
Brian Ryks, Duluth Airport Authority executive director, said he believed a long-term solution could be reached.
“There will be some impacts to the forest but there’s got to be a compromise,” he said. “We’ve made a number of compromises already.”
Those compromises include moving lighting and shortening up the runway in the interim, among others, he said.

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