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Sunnyside Airport renovation likely

Extending the runway to 4,000 feet in length and repairing a taxiway in bad shape are two of many recommendations for the Sunnyside Airport.

That's according to an airport layout plan the Sunnyside City Council received last night, Monday, during its regular meeting.

David Miller is a senior aviation planner with Century West, a firm the state hired to draw up the Sunnyside airport plan.

Miller noted that the city essentially received the layout plan for free, as the state picked up a 5 percent match required for federal help.

In other comments to council last night, Miller said he sees considerable potential in the airport and praised the foresight of Port of Sunnyside officials in purchasing land near the airport to accommodate future runway expansion.

That was echoed during a public comment session by Ted Durfey, who operates a fuel facility at the airport.

"Our valley is changing, if you look at it over time what you see is some really positive changes that are taking place," Durfey told council, noting the area's strong wine and dairy industries.

As for the port's land purchase near the airport, Durfey added, "Once you lose that ground, the encroachment of housing, it will never come back."

That also brought up the fact the city still has a freeze in effect on any new zoning on properties within 1,000 feet of the airport. Council asked Miller's opinion on the subject and, while not giving any concrete direction, he suggested the city move carefully as it zones land near the airport.

The layout plan still must meet an FAA review, but with a plan in hand the city can now begin the process of spending some of the $600,000 it has available in federal grants for airport improvements.

The city needs to get started with a project in 2009 in order to retain all of its "use it or lose it" grant monies. The only rub is that Sunnyside will have to come up with a 5 percent match for the funds, about $30,000.

City Manager Eric Swansen said the city doesn't have the money to pay for the match, and indicated Sunnyside will seek partnerships with private citizens, the port and the hospital in coming up with the money.

Swansen also indicated the city may look at increasing user fees at the airport, such as for hangars.

The first priority according to the plan will be building a new taxiway that allows for greater separation between aircraft and enables the airport to handle airplanes with a wider wingspan.

The taxiway alone would cost $417,000, with Sunnyside required to pay a $28,000 match.

The airport layout plan doesn't just look at the immediate future, but sets out improvements over a 20-year span. Future upgrades at the airport could include fencing the perimeter of the airport to prevent animal or vehicle encroachment and extending the runway.

A technical upgrade the city will have to look at soon for the airport is communication hardware to provide weather reporting for the Lower Valley. Swansen noted a recent example in which both Yakima and the Tri-Cities were sunny while the Lower Valley was socked in with fog.

Since there is no certified weather observation station between the two areas, a pilot may have flown over this way thinking the Lower Valley, too, was clear. And that, Swansen added, could result in safety concerns.

After years of inactivity at the airport, Sunnyside plans to move forward in relative lightning speed, perhaps hiring a consultant to design the taxiway as soon as the next council meeting, Monday, Feb. 23.

The upgrades would not only enhance medical flights in and out of Sunnyside, but could have the added effect of enhancing the city's economy.

Durfey noted that 20 or 30 years ago the airport was used by planes for spraying crops in the area.

"Times are dramatically changing," he said, noting the advent of general aviation and businesses such as Canam and Les Schwab who routinely fly in their employees.

"This is one of the gateways to our community," he said.

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