KENAI, Alaska — The Kenai Municipal Airport commission opened the floor at a recent meeting to hear comments about Federal Aviation Administration regulations that could result in a number of trees being cut down, much to the dismay of some residents.
During a periodic FAA inspection early last year, trees southwest of the runway were noted as a potential hazard for aircraft arriving and departing procedures.
"The Proposed Action is needed in order to protect public safety and preserve the existing published instrument arrival and departure procedures for Runway 1L-19R," according to a draft environmental assessment commissioned by the city of Kenai.
Two companies worked on the assessment, Aries Consultants Ltd. and Wince-Corthell-Bryson. The assessment contains the proposed action and alternatives, consequences and other important aspects of the project. There are two projects included in the assessment, one calls for on-airport property tree removal, and the other calls for "selected tree removal on private property with avigation easements," the report said.
An avigation easement, Airport Manager Mary Bondurant said, is basically a clear-zone easement that acknowledges the property owner will not have, or erect, any structure on a property in an excess of a certain height.
The problem is there are many Kenai residents who will be affected by the plan that were not aware of such restrictions, Bondurant said.
"You got from them (at the Jan. 12 meeting) that these property owners did not know they had avigation easements on those lots when they purchased that property," she said.
The thought of having trees cleared from their property did not sit well with residents testifying Jan. 12 before the Airport Commission. Residents brought up many concerns including decreased property value, decreased protection from noise and a decrease in wildlife.
"I saw a couple of pictures online of homes that have been clear cut," Maureen Shaffer said. "And it's like what homes look like after a tornado. I mean the houses are still there, but the yards, which are so much a part of our homes — are decimated."
Shaffer addressed concerns about her and her husband Keith's property value dropping by 20 percent, coupled with an increased electric bill due to the wind that would cut through the property.
"The electric bills on houses in cold, windy areas — and we have all that wind though there — go up 20 to 30 percent," Shaffer said. "This has huge impacts. Plus the drifts that take place, the amount of snow piled up on First (Street) by the airport shows the difference between just there and a few hundred feet up the road where there's trees to protect it."
Notions of having trees completely removed is somewhat premature, Bondurant said. In the assessment, under the selected tree removal on private property with avigation easements project overview, there is an alternative given.
"... Each property owner will be given the option of removal or topping on a tree-by-tree basis," the assessment reads.
Topping of trees was the procedure used almost a decade ago in the Kenai Cemetery. The trees were shortened significantly, but they are still alive and thriving today.
"I totally think that airport safety is paramount," Float Plane Road resident Susan Bradley said. "I also think the value of trees is paramount — I don't think that we need to sacrifice either.
"I would really like to suggest topping all the trees on the airport property as you did the cemetery — maintain that as a hedge."
Bradley said the trees provide a buffer area between the runway and residents.
"The city needs that barrier between the runway and all of us that live other there," she said. "That's a vital piece of tree land and it just should not be torn out."
Bondurant said all the public comment she has received since October will be compiled in the assessment and forwarded to the FAA.
"All of those comments are going to be circulated, addressed and considered," she said. "That's why we're going through the process."
Bondurant said she has been trying to get in touch with the property owners and find a way to meet and discuss the issue at hand.
"We can discuss the project and how we can mitigate the problem," she said.
Information from: Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com