Runaway runway advances at Jackson Hole airport

 


Despite overwhelming public opposition, Jackson Hole airport officials have decided to push the high-altitude airport's runway deeper into Grand Teton National park.


Airport board members characterized the decision to add 968 feet of pavement to the 6,300-foot-long runway as a compromise. "I'm looking at what is doable," said airport board member Fred Hibberd. An earlier plan called for an even longer extension, but Teton County officials, who appointed the board, threatened to veto requests for federal funding of the project. The airport is the only one in the country inside a national park.


The board maintains the expansion is necessary to comply with new federal regulations and existing constraints - 11 aircraft have overrun the runway in the last 10 years. The board's decision comes after a $500,000, five-year study and calls for radar and a control tower.


Environmentalists remain opposed to any runway changes, which they say could be the first step toward allowing larger planes to use the airport. "This airport is really incompatible with Grand Teton National Park," says Tom Mangelsen, a board member for the Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning.


At public hearings, the expansion position received little support from commercial airline pilots and the Federal Aviation Administration, which will ultimately decide the issue. Regional FAA director Fred Isaac told the board that the new tower and altered flight tracks would not make much difference. And several commercial pilots testified that moving the runway would not improve their ability to take off or land.


The FAA is evaluating the board's draft environmental assessment and is expected to make a decision this fall. For more information, contact the Jackson Hole Alliance for Responsible Planning at 307/733-9417 or write the Jackson Hole Airport Board at Box 159, Jackson, WY 83001.


* Roger Hayden