Airport head says land acquisition for runway extension will be fair - Brownsville Herald: News

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Airport head says land acquisition for runway extension will be fair

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Posted: Monday, September 18, 2017 10:30 pm

Reactions ran the gamut at a public meeting last month for residents whose property the city wants to acquire to extend the main runway at Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport.

So says Airport Director Bryant Walker, who discussed the airport’s plans during the meeting. Most in attendance were residents of Sunny Skies colonia, which lies off the end of Runway 31.

The airport wants to extend the runway from the current 7,400 feet to 10,000 feet in order to give planes more stopping distance, though doing that would put the neighborhood and some surrounding properties within the Federal Aviation Administration’s 10,000-square-foot Runway Protection Zone, which can’t have people in it, he said.

“When we do the 2,600-foot extension, the runway gets within about 1,000 of the homes,” Walker said. “There’s a safety area that’s required by the FAA in case an aircraft overruns the end of the runway.”

The FAA recently came out with new rules that change how airports have to report the effect of precipitation on runway friction, which impacts planes’ braking effectiveness, he said.

“The reporting measures that the FAA has now requires that we effectively shorten the reported length of the runway,” Walker said. “If that happens there are aircraft that wouldn’t be able to land here because the runway would technically be too short for them to land here.”

Some of the attendees of the public meeting were on board with the project, others thought the city is overreaching, and still others thought the city is lying about the reason for the acquisitions and that somebody stands to make money off the deal, which is not the case, he said.

“One guy interrupted the whole presentation before we even got started really and said, ‘Look, you’re here to buy property, right?’ We said yes. He said, ‘Write me a check. I’m ready to go,’” Walker said.

Property appraisals are underway as is the preliminary process of gauging how much buying the properties will cost, with the FAA probably paying most of it, he said.

“The appraisals are done in the most fair manner and then we negotiate to a certain degree,” he said. “We have some latitude.”

Because it’s a federal project, the airport has to follow federal guidelines for land acquisition, which includes relocation assistance, Walker said.

“We’re not just going to be paying for the property, we’re also going to be investing in the relocation of many of these homeowners depending on their situation,” he said.

Nothing is happening right away, however, since a new terminal has to be built before the airport can extend its runway, Walker said.

“Really we’re not going to be building the project for a few years,” he said. “But we have to make sure that we start the process now because we could run into issues. There could be title issues with land. There could be environmental issues that we have to mitigate, and all those things take a lot of time.”

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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