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Heber Valley Airport eyes runway, buffer zone shifts

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Ben Lasseter
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KPCW
Attendees at the Heber Valley Airport open house, including councilmembers Yvonne Barney (foreground, middle) and Ryan Stack (right), listen to a presentation about potential upgrades to airport facilities.

The Heber Valley community got a glimpse at the possible future of its airport at an open house Thursday.

Future development of the Heber Valley Airport became a little more clear to the public Thursday evening. Planners revealed what they believe is the best path forward to bring the airport up to standards. 

About 80 people at the Heber Valley Airport open house Thursday were first to see the ideas on the table for updating its facilities.

Airport Manager Travis Biggs and engineers are on an airport advisory board leading the master planning process. Some of them who presented details of the plan they’ve been working on said at the meeting there’s one feasible option on the table, and that’s to shift the runway southwest.

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Heber Valley Airport Advisory Board
One of several display boards at the open house showed the details of the proposal to shift the Heber Valley Airport runway.

Biggs said actual construction could begin as soon as eight years from now, but it’ll likely be longer than that because the federal government is involved.

As Biggs explained in an interview with KPCW, ever since the city started taking the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) money to pay the majority of operational costs in the 1990s, it’s been required to follow federal guidelines. He said it comes down to the airport fielding much faster planes these days than it’s built for.

“The jets come in a lot faster than some of the older aircraft,” he said. “If a jet comes down to land and they slide off the runway, they could go hundreds of feet. So they're just saying, if you want to continue to be a public-use airport, you need to follow the same safety standards as everyone else. And because of the speed of the aircraft coming into your airport, we need you to have a bigger buffer zone between the runway and the highway, and [between] that runway and the hangars and different buildings at the airport.”

According to Biggs, the FAA pays about 90% of the airport's operational costs. Since the 1990s, he said that's amounted to about $20 million. The Utah Department of Transportation pays another 5%, and the airport uses its own revenues to pay the remaining 5% of costs.

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Ben Lasseter
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KPCW
Heber Valley Airport Manager Travis Biggs explains the most recent phase of the airport master plan study.

The plan to shift the runway would impact two farms southwest of the property. Biggs said the city would seek to acquire the land from the owners but doesn’t plan to condemn it. If the owners don’t want to sell the land, he said the airport could still work around it.

That land is within the Daniel boundary, not Heber City, so Biggs didn’t believe eminent domain will be an option.

Some Heber Valley residents at the open house opposed the plan.

Kimo Paulsen said he doesn’t like jets flying over his house and fears that if the airport becomes safer for jets, more will come. He said he’d prefer the airport not change at all.

“I have big jets that are flying over my home to make a turn to come into the airport,” he said. “They've been getting bigger and bigger as time has gone by. So we got here about 16 years ago, and there's been a noticeable increase in the large aircraft traffic since then.”

The Heber City Council will vote whether to approve the advisory board’s recommendation on Tuesday, October 18 after a public hearing. Paulsen said he hopes the council will reject the plan.

But if the council does approve the runway shift as the best next step, the airport advisory board will study impacts of the plan, such as noise and lighting, then cost.

After that phase of the study, the city council will have another opportunity to review the master plan with all of the findings. If the council approves, it will go to the FAA for final review and approval, according to the presenters on Thursday.

Jean and David Rosenblum live in Red Ledges. That’s several miles from the airport, but they said they don’t mind the noise like others who complained at the meeting. They said what makes them more nervous is the possibility of an accident near homes or the schools in the valley.

“Anything that makes it FAA compliant is a good thing, because then we have some sort of a structure or a governing body or something to kind of oversee what they’re pursuing,” Jean Rosenblum said.

People at the meeting left comments with their opinions about the study and what should happen next. A public comment period is also open on the master plan website.

Links to submit comments and view documents with the findings of the phases of the study that have been completed so far are available at hebervalleyflightpath.com.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.