A permanent U.S. Forest Service helitack base, adjacent to Payson Municipal Airport, moved closer to completion Thursday night at a special meeting of the town council.
A major addition to to the five-year airport capital improvement program was the acquisition of 51 acres north of the airport, which the town hopes to purchase with a grant, for the helitack base. Following an executive session, the council unanimously adopted the update submitted by Airport Manager, Ted Anderson.
"(The acquisition is) listed on the plan, but whether (the helitack base) moves ahead, who knows?" Town Manager Fred Carpenter said. "If (the base is) going to happen, the FAA would have to come forward and offer us a grant, and there's a lot of other unanswered questions."
The current plan is for the Forest Service to lease about 20 acres, with the remainder leased for economic development, according to Payson Mayor Barbara Brewer.
"It would be a real shot in the arm because the lease on that amount of property would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $65,000 to $70,000 a year, and that money would go into airport coffers to help make it more self-sustaining," Brewer said.
Forest service officials would like to see the new base accommodate other aircraft operations, and possibly include training facilities in addition to the helitack facility. The eight-person Tonto Helitack unit, one of 96 such teams in the United States, was stationed temporarily at the airport this summer.
Helitack units provide rapid response and initial attack capabilities. The teams land near fires when possible, and rappel from helicopters when fires are unapproachable by foot.