Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Airport issues extend to golf course

Remember last year’s flap at the Palmer Municipal Airport? Back in 2009, the city learned the U.S. Department of Justice was investigating the city’s use of federal funding at the airport. A whistleblower case brought by the feds and former airport manager Jane Dale claimed the city fraudulently received federal Airport Improvement Program money between 2002 and 2007 by promising to spend any airport revenues at the airport, and charge any non-aviation tenant fair-market value. Last year, Palmer paid out $857,000 to settle the case, though the city maintained nobody did anything wrong. 
Well, the settlement didn’t clear everything up. The original investigation into airport operations revealed that, among other things, the feds believe the Palmer Golf Course fence is too close to the airport’s main north-south 6,000-foot runway. It wasn’t too close in 1989 when the course opened, but then the Federal Aviation Administration standards changed. Now the FAA wants the city to move the fence 125 feet to the east, or downgrade the aviation rating of the runway so the fence can stay. Moving the fence would destroy four holes and change three more.
“This would effectively close the golf course,” according to a January report to the city council on the airport correctional plan from interim airport manager Jonathan Owen. 
Downgrading the runway could jeopardize the state Department of Forestry’s firefighting operations at the airport, the report says. The city isn’t going to do the downgrade. 
So municipal officials plan to seek an FAA grant “in the $300,000 range” to prepare a Phase 2 Airport Master Plan, Owen said in an e-mail this week. The plan will recommend how the city should resolve “a host of issues” including the golf course fence but also the city’s long-term plans and goals for its airport, he said. 
The city is also trying to work out long-term arrangements for other airport users. Among them: New Horizons Telecom, the Mat-Su Borough School District Nutrition Center and a city water well and snow storage site. 
Stay tuned for more updates about the airport situation. 
 -- Zaz Hollander

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