By MATT HICKMAN
WASILLA — City and business leaders used Tuesday’s regular lunch meeting of the Greater Wasilla Area Chamber of Commerce to express a relatively ‘urgent’ need for the Wasilla Airport to extend its runway.
Archie Giddings, Wasilla Public Works Director since 2003, explained that since the runway was paved in 1999, it has stretched 3,700 feet, but contended that before residential and commercial sprawl eats up the surrounding area, the runway should be extended to 5,000 feet.
The problem, Giddings explained, is that 95 percent of the airport’s funding comes via the Federal Aviation Administration and 5 percent from the city. He said, as the FAA sees it now, the Wasilla Airport does not yet have the traffic to warrant such an expansion and it won’t likely be able to reach that capacity without expanding the runway.
This is the Catch-22 the city finds itself in vis a vis the airport.
“It’s a little game of chicken with the FAA,” Giddings said. “It’s build it and they will come, but you are at their mercy.”
It wasn’t the last time the classic line from the 1989 baseball fantasy film was used; that distinction belonged to longtime area CPA and economic development champion Dan Kennedy, who took to the podium third after local aviation consultant Mark Stigar.
Kennedy said the city should look at taking out a bond on the $15 million project, an idea he said was supported by all three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation.
“Currently, we have restrictions to general aviation… (5,000 feet) is the number we need for economic expansion and well-paying jobs,” Kennedy said. “We really need this to build an industrial tax base that will help fund the best school district in America (nodding to interim Mat-Su School Superintendent Monica Goyette).… There is a degree of urgency to do it now.”
Stigar said that a 6,000-foot runway would be the ‘magic number’ that would allow the airport to safely host commuter flights. He said the airport in Palmer has the larger runway and can accommodate larger planes, but the location’s proximity to mountains and its windiness, make it less than ideal.
Stigar also said that expanding the airstrip would create maintenance jobs that currently Anchorage airports currently have a difficult time filling.
“I don’t want to compete with Anchorage International,” Stigar said. “But if we don’t get that runway going, the opportunity is going to be gone.”