Heber airport redesign nears completion; resident feedback mixed
The end is in sight for the years-in-the-making plan to update the Heber Valley Airport.
Heber City government and Heber Valley Airport leaders expect to submit a plan to the Federal Aviation Administration by the end of April to move the runway and upgrade facilities. That would end a lengthy planning process involving environmental studies, public feedback and government meetings.
“Typically, these take 18 months, and we're three and a half years into this one,” said Jeremy McAlister, an aviation engineer and leading consultant on the project. “So, it's been a long time, but we've definitely gotten the direction from the city to incorporate all the input, and we're to a point now where we've got a plan that is getting really close.”
At an open house at Heber Valley Elementary School Monday, airport engineering consultants unveiled the latest renovation plan. Around 60 people showed up for the presentations and opportunity to speak one-on-one with the planning team.
The idea is to widen the runway from 75 feet to 100 feet, shift it southwest and enlarge safety buffer zones. The latest plan also includes a park design, new hangars and a lounge and restroom for pilots.
Even if the plan becomes final by this summer, construction may take years to begin.
“I spoke with the FAA last week,” Heber City Manager Matt Brower said, “and they're telling me that they want to get the full life of the existing runway asset, meaning they're not going to abandon it or destroy it until they get to full life. They're looking at a 10- to 15-year timeline before the new runway is built. Before then, the city's got a lot of work to do — they’ve got hangars to move, they’ve hangars to build, they got tarmacs to build. It's a lot of work to be done before that runway is actually executed on.”
At the open house, planners and city officials said they’re still getting mixed feedback about the project.
Linda Middleton was among those who opposed the airport renovation. She said planes bring environmental and safety concerns and are a nuisance, and many fear that an upgrade will bring more air traffic to the Heber Valley.
“We all would like to have less noise pollution, less air pollution, more care about our environment and the migratory birds that come since time immemorial to this valley,” she said. “We don't want to add more on top of the environmental pressure that we already are loading on this valley.”
According to the FAA, the upgrades are required because the airport is not up to standards for the types of planes using it. City and airport planners say the goal is to do the minimum to come into compliance with FAA regulations, as required by contracts between the city and federal agency.
If the FAA finds the airport out of compliance, it could cut off funding for costs like runway improvements and new facilities. According to city projections, that cost could exceed $80 million over the next 20 years.
Airport Manager Travis Biggs said unlike past upgrades, the current plan is not designed to increase air traffic or attract bigger planes.
A recent study asked 500 Wasatch County residents to share their opinions about the airport renovation in email and phone responses. The airport paid for the study, and Heber City officials helped write it.
Of those surveyed, 11% said airport issues were one of their top three concerns about the county.
One question in the survey asked whether property taxpayers would rather be on the hook to cover the $86 million in funding the FAA could cut off if the airport doesn’t make the upgrades.
In response to that question, about 55% said they would support the renovation to keep receiving federal funding, while nearly 35% said they would prefer taxpayers shoulder the cost.
In another question, more than three quarters of respondents said they didn’t want to pay any more in property taxes to subsidize the airport. Only 2% said they would be willing to pay $500 annually or more.
Next, the city council will vote whether to continue the process on January 17. With the council’s approval, Brower said his office would complete the layout plan in time for another public meeting in February.
The study includes four more opportunities for the public to give feedback before it wraps up.