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The Federal Aviation Administration held the first of two public scoping workshops Wednesday as it begins an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to expand the runway at Charleston’s International Yeager Airport.
The airport, owned by the Central West Virginia Regional Airport Authority, wants to extend its main runway by 285 feet from its existing length of 6715 feet to 7000 feet and shift the parallel taxiway as it makes improvements to the runway safety area. The airport was 6,802 feet before a reinforced slope failure in 2015.
The proposed project being studied would establish standard 1,000-foot-long by 500-foot-wide runway safety areas at both ends of Runway 5-23 and runway extension to meet the takeoff runway length needs of the existing and forecast future aircraft fleet mix at CRW.
The expansion requires filling in a large valley which would encroach on approximately 400 acres of Coonskin Park, including the park’s hiking trails and picnic sites. Nearly 26 million cubic yards of fill would be removed to accommodate a support structure for the runway expansion.
The FAA has to complete the EIS study to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). As part of the process the FAA is inviting public feedback which will take an estimated two years to complete.
“At the start of the process we take the airport’s proposal and we bring it to the public,” FAA Regional Environment Program Manage Andrew Brooks said. “Essentially what we’re saying is, our airport authority is proposing this in your community, this is your opportunity to provide some input into what is being considered through the environmental process that is to come.”
The FAA will complete what Brooks calls “alternative screenings” as it attempts to address the airport’s runway length without impacting Coonskin Park. After that, a series of informational meetings will be held to update the public on where the FAA stands in the process.
“Once the EIS, which is currently scheduled for the first quarter of 2024, we’ll come out and have the public meetings, potentially hearings, where the public will be able to see the full breadth of impact analysis, provide comment and testimony on the record at that point,” Brooks said.
The study involves multiple federal, state, as well as local agencies. They include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, West Virginia Development Office, and the Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission.
With hundreds of acres of Charleston’s most prized park at stake there has been considerable public pushback to the project. The park’s Alice Knight Memorial Trail and Coonskin Grotto waterfall are listed on West Virginia Tourism’s website as state attractions.
Chad Cordell, a member of Kanawha Forest Coalition said the project does not make sense for Charleston.
“Coonskin Park is really special to a lot of people in the area. It’s been part of our families for generations and it’s a place that we don’t want to see destroyed,” Cordell said. “This proposal right now would take almost half of Coonskin Park, would bulldoze it and fill tens of millions of yards of fill of the Coonskin branch, you know 100s of feet deep. We’re talking about bulldozing and burying a large portion of this wonderful park that for a lot of people is one of the most accessible green spaces in the Charleston area.”
FAA Regional Environment Program Manage Andrew Brooks said as the FAA moves forward with the study they will be closely exploring the potential impacts on Coonskin Park and the surrounding environment.
“If we achieve those standards by using less grading or less size, then that acreage could potentially be reduced,” he said.
Dave McMahon questioned the need for more safety. “There are only 9 commercial flights today,” McMahon said. “I understand there are an average of 14 air national guard flights a day. Do you really need to have a separate taxiway? Leave the other planes at the gate until the other planes have taken off. I don’t see enough flight activity to justify moving the taxiway.”
Heather Sprouse, the Ohio River Coordinator for West Virginia Rivers Coalition was at last night’s meeting.
“We are pleased to hear that the FAA is carefully considering public comments. Now is the time to share ideas about what should be included in the Environmental Impact Study, including how important Coonskin is to the community of Charleston as our only urban forested green space.”
Yeager Airport Director Dominique Ranieri said the informal walk-through setting of the FAA scoping workshops gives the public a chance to talk one-on-one with FAA consultants.
The workshop highlights the EIS study in visual detail through informational boards that explain the project in various stages of development.
“It’s an opportunity to hear the information in a little bit more of a casual conversation setting,” Ranieri said. “All the consultants and members of the FAA team are here and they are available to get into the minutiae as are the people from the airport to talk about the proposed project.”
Ranieri said the thoughts of community members will be taken into account.
“After they see all of the different project boards throughout the room, that’s the end point: before you leave, please leave us your formal comments,” she said. “We will review every single one and take them into consideration as part of this long two year process.”
The FAA scoping study will continue through Nov. 17. The public will have another chance to learn about the impacts of the airport expansion during a second workshop scheduled Thursday evening at Embassy Suites Hotel in Charleston from 6 to 8 p.m. A virtual workshop meeting will be held on Monday, Nov 7.
For more information on Yeager Airport’s proposed expansion visit here.