Lawsuit dismissal clears way for Willow Airport planning

July 15, 2010

An Alaska court has dismissed a lawsuit by a property owners group in Willow, Alaska, that had put planning for the local airport and seaplane base in jeopardy.
The Friends of Willow Lake (FOWL) had brought a suit against the Alaska Department of Transportation and the local air taxi service because of a 2008 lake use plan that separated aviation from nonaviation uses of the water. The unresolved issue of the lawsuit had hampered the progress of a master planning project for Willow Airport, which would address issues such as land use, safety surfaces, and needed capital improvements. Alaska’s Third District Superior Court ruled that FOWL had no grounds for its lawsuit, which means planning can proceed for the entire complex.

Planning efforts are important for maintaining the safety and utility of airports. AOPA, together with AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer Jane Dale, the Willow Airport Support Group, and other aviation groups, encouraged the Alaska DOT to conduct thorough planning for the entire airport and seaplane base complex, which was largely dependent on the resolution of the lawsuit--legal uncertainty cast a shadow over any planning involving seaplane operations.

AOPA wrote to the firm developing the master plan in March to recommend forming a technical advisory committee (TAC) at the outset of planning and planning for all aspects of aviation at the site, including seaplane operations.

“The early formation of a TAC will provide stakeholders the opportunity to learn about best practices for planning airports, about the obligations that come with federal airport grants, and the importance to the airport and surrounding communities in observing safety standards,” wrote AOPA Airport Support Network Director Joey Colleran.

The committee was formed and includes Dale among the stakeholders. As a result of the court ruling, the stakeholders committee can move forward and include the seaplane base it its planning.“This should clear the way for the master planning project to proceed, and address the issues of the different stakeholders on the lake, including ways to designate areas for safe operation of both seaplane and ski plane operations on the lake as well as non-aeronautical uses,” said Dale. The seaplane base provides vital services to those who operate on floats in the summer and skis in the winter, she wrote.