Ravalli Co. sets appeal notice on airport expansion plan


HAMILTON, Mont. - After years of planning and argument Ravalli County may be one step closer in efforts to improve its airport.

The county and the Federal Aviation Administration prepared an environmental assessment on a plan to expand and lengthen the runway.

This week the FAA released documents that found no significant environmental impact in the proposal.

On Wednesday commissioners set the stage for another round on the airport issue.

The board is giving a 60-day notice for people to review the documents for appeal.

With more than 23,000 take-offs and landings every year Ravalli County Airport is one of Montana's busiest general aviation, or small, airports.

Under the plan a new runway would be 1,000 feet longer than the existing one.

"It's always good to have runway in front of you in case something happens," said airport board chairman Dave Hedditch.

The new proposed runway would be shifted 400 feet to the east of the current runway.

Pointing to a privately owned field, airport manager Page Gough said "it would be out in this field on the other side of the fence and go about 5,200 feet to the north.

The existing runway would be retired as a runway but would serve another purpose. The 4,200 feet runway would become a taxiway.

At a commissioners' meeting Wednesday morning there was little public comment. But Hamilton resident Greg Raymond voiced his concerns. Raymond lives just south of the airport.

"I'm concerned of the future impacts to our properties," he said, "not only the noise, but the values to our properties and the peace."

Hedditch said the airport would remain a facility for small aircraft.

"There will not be heavier aircraft landing here," he said.

Gough said currently Forest Service aircraft carrying retardant for fighting fire can't take off here with a full load when temperatures are too hot.

"When the weather is hotter," said Gough, "this will help them. They could leave the airport with a full load."

For the past five years the airport has been out of compliance and has not received federal funding for maintenance.

Hedditch said an update would bring it into compliance so repairs could be made, for instance, on pavement breakups.

Whatever happens isn't likely to happen soon. The proposed runway would be built on private land and the county does not have rights to it.

County commissioners will post legal notices and take display ads out in local newspapers.

Anyone who wants to challenge the proposal legally has 60 days to appeal the environmental assessment. Commissioners may consider extending that to 90 days.