By Ann McCreary
A $3.9 million federal grant has been awarded to the Methow Valley State Airport to repave the runway, widen taxiways and rehabilitate apron areas.
The runway repaving is expected to begin next May and be completed before the fire season begins, to avoid interfering with operations of the North Cascades Smokejumper Base (NCSB), said Paul Wolf, state airports manager for the Washington State Department of Transportation aviation division.
Wolf said the runway and taxiway improvement projects will not require that three buildings that are part of NCSB be removed from an “object free area” at the state airport. The buildings are allowed under a waiver from the FAA.
The Methow Valley State Airport, located off Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road between Twisp and Winthrop, is one of 16 airports managed by WSDOT, Wolf said.
“We call it our crown jewel. It’s our biggest runway,” he said. The airport runway is rated for planes that weigh up to 30,000 pounds and could handle commercial aircraft in an emergency if other airports were closed, he said.
Originally a U.S. Forest Service facility, the airport has historical value as the “birthplace of smokejumping,” where the first experimental jumps took place in 1939. “The North Cascades Smokejumper Base has quite a history there and we want to facilitate supporting them and their operation there,” Wolf said.
Like many of the state-managed airports, the Methow Valley State Airport’s primary uses are emergency management staging, sports recreation and emergency evacuation, Wolf said. “It also supports local economics, he said.
The airport has seven privately owned hangars and airport layout plans provide for adding additional hangars in the future if there is demand for more, Wolf said.
A recent study of NCSB conducted by the Forest Service concluded that three buildings located too close to the runway will need to be demolished and a new building constructed. Several of the buildings at the 77-year-old base also need to be updated, the study found. “As they do their continued planning we will work with them,” Wolf said.
The study evaluated the possibility of relocating smokejumping operations to another airport, but concluded that if funding for the improvements can be obtained, the base can remain in the Methow Valley.