Council Votes Against Runway Extension

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Besides derailing public transit Thursday night, the Payson Town Council also voted down an airport runway extension by a 6-0 vote.

Ted Anderson, Payson Municipal Airport manager, told the council that when the Airport Advisory Committee tallied the pros and cons, it just made sense not to do the extension. The AAC voted 7-0 on Jan. 25 to recommend that the town not proceed with the project.

The $5 million, 596-foot extension would have only cost the town $125,000 in matching funds. The Federal Aviation Administration would have funded the project, with the town paying just 2.5 percent.

At the Thursday meeting, Anderson addressed two issues that had been raised since the committee vote -- whether not extending the runway would affect U.S. Forest Service plans for firefighting aircraft or future commercial passenger service.

"When the mayor, council member (Robert) Henley, town manager Fred Carpenter and myself met with Forest Service officials on the 24th of January, the runway extension was discussed," Anderson said. "We were informed that the big DC4 aircraft would not be an aircraft that they planned to use at our airport during fire season. They added that our present runway is adequate for their future needs."

Anderson also told the council that not extending the runway did not necessarily preclude passenger service in the future.

"Passenger service could happen with the existing runway length, (but) if it did happen it would most likely be an aircraft that would have turboprop engines rather than jet engines," he said. "But realistically, passenger service to Payson would most likely not happen for two reasons: the low demand because of the population size and the relatively short drive of 1.3 hours from Payson to the Phoenix airport."

Vice mayor disappointed

The vote against public transit was 5-1. What was expected to be a close vote failed to materialize when Mayor Barbara Brewer missed the meeting and couldn't be reached to vote by phone and Councilor John Wilson, who had previously announced his support of public transit, changed his mind and voted with its detractors.

Several councilors, led by Dick Reese and George Barriger, felt the town could better spend the $110,000 the project would have cost each year.

Reese also questioned ridership estimates, despite the fact that they were calculated and verified by two public transit experts, and he questioned an assertion by consultant Amy Ostrander, who conservatively estimated that each bus would take eight cars off local streets.

A feasibility study had indicated Payson had a need for public transit and Arizona Department of Transportation officials had come to a recent meeting to assure the town council that public transit would not be allowed to fail.

Vice Mayor Judy Buettner, who chaired the meeting in Brewer's absence and cast the only yes vote, scoffed at assertions by Reese that the public hadn't been given the opportunity to provide input.

"I'm really disappointed," Buettner said Friday. "There were two open houses and two work studies that were open to the public. How many times did you hear me say, ‘People, let everybody know how you feel -- either pro or con.'"

Buettner also implied that the counselors who complained about not having enough information were making excuses.

"There's no more information," she said. "ADOT has put thousands of dollars into these studies. They kept ignoring the fact that there were ways to reduce (what public transit would cost the town) through advertising and maybe some other grants."

Other council action

The council also heard a first reading of proposed amendments to the Unified Development Code. They would:

  • Set forth requirements for screening outdoor storage and loading areas, equipment and lighting.
  • Restrict signs on vehicles used primarily as static displays.
  • Require a master sign plan for new subdivisions.
  • Toughen requirements for special-use permits for such events as farmers' markets, carnivals and swap meets.

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