Residents living near Harvey Field worry that an expanded runway will cost county taxpayers millions of dollars in road improvements.
For years, Kandace Harvey and her family have tried to extend the runway at the airport used by small planes. According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards, the 2,750-feet runway is 750 feet too short for Cessnas and their equivalents to use at full capacity. Harvey wants to add the 750 feet.
But should the runway expansion be approved, it would cross Airport Way, a road in heavy use by morning and afternoon traffic as it connects to Highway 9 just south of Snohomish. The road's relocation would be a necessity.
Lengthening the runway would also allow small passenger jets to use the airport.
Snohomish County officials say they have no money for such a project that would cost millions. The only way the road could be moved is through a partnership that includes the airport owners.
"Maybe some money would come from the FAA or maybe a grant or the state," said Steve Thomsen, the county's public-works director, "but some would also need to come from the airport."
Residents opposing the runway for various reasons say any costs to the county would be an unfair burden on taxpayers.
Under the airport's expansion plan, the Harveys also hope to increase hangar space on an additional 100 acres the family owns. The expanded runway would likely bring in more Cessna-style planes that now use other airports because of the take-off requirements.
Harvey doesn't dispute the possibility of more planes using the field if expanded, but she also says it's a matter of allowing what's approved at the field to reach its fullest potential.
"I think it's a big misunderstanding on the part of those opposing the project," Harvey said. "The purpose is to allow approved aircraft to operate at gross take-off weight."
As it is now, to take off on a smaller runway, the larger planes must either fly with smaller passenger loads or less fuel, meaning flying shorter distances.
The county is discussing the issue with Harvey now because it has some improvements for Airport Way under consideration. Thomsen and Harvey agree that no one wants to spend county money only to have the work become obsolete with an airport expansion.
Opponents hope the road issue will indefinitely stall the runway plan, which is awaiting federal approval. Tying it up is the fact that part of the land needed for the runway expansion and hangar additions is in the Snohomish River flood plain. The county has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to review the flood plain zoning and see if development could be allowed.
Fearful of such development is Barb Bailey, who owns property downstream from the airfield. If development occurs, that could send potential floodwaters her way.
"We live south, and guess where that floodwater goes?" she said. "We're trying to convince Snohomish County to drop the issue by showing them it requires a lot of stuff [from them] such as moving a road."
Also opposed is Ralph Lowery, who owns a historic house in the airport's flight path. More planes means more noise, and in the valley, that's unwanted, he said.
"It's more than just a noise issue, it's a safety issue," Lowery said. "We've had one plane crash out here about six years ago, so we know it's eventually going to happen again, and it could be our home."
Not all are opposed to the measure. Snohomish City Councilman Larry Countryman recently wrote in the Snohomish County Tribune that the airport has been there longer than most of the other landowners. It also means money for Snohomish, he said.
"In 2004, the total combined direct output of on-airport tenants and general-aviation visitors was $16,037,033," he wrote. "I believe the Harvey airport to be a vital asset to the city of Snohomish."
The outcome is still months away, but Harvey said she's trying to ease concerns and abate problems raised by nearby property owners now.
"We're the ones bringing up these issues to the county," she said, adding that her family has deep roots in the Snohomish Valley.
"We homesteaded this land in 1859 and started the airstrip in the 1940s," Harvey said. "We're into our sixth generation here."
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