Federal approval of a Provo Municipal Airport runway extension project that will consume wetlands appears imminent despite objections from environmentalists.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made a preliminary decision to grant Provo a permit to lengthen the runway 1,509 feet to the northwest. A 1,000-foot-by-500-foot safety lane will also be added to the strip. The plan will be reviewed by the corps in Sacramento, Calif., in the next few weeks."They generally go along with our decision on things," said Drasa Maciunas, project manager of the corps' Bountiful office.
Provo resident Lillian Hayes, a longtime opponent of airport encroachment into Utah Lake, can't bear to see the wetlands removed.
"We'll have to wage an effort to stop them, but I don't know if we can," she said. Hayes and Mike Adams, Orem, recently mailed cards to people who they believe are sympathetic to their cause. The cards ask recipients to call or write the corps requesting the permit not be issued.
The permit is contingent upon the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formulating a plan to relocate the endangered June suckers' habitat, which will be wiped out along the lake's eastern shoreline. Fish and Game biologist Henry Maddux recommends "grow" ponds be placed on airport property near the shore where fish can be transplanted to spawn and later released into the lake.
Hayes doesn't believe Provo has worked out a satisfactory wetlands mitigation plan. The federal government requires wetlands removed for development to be re-placed acre-for-acre in another area.
The city intends to offset the loss of 60 acres near the lake with 70 acres south of the East Bay Golf Course. The area is currently flooded but can be drained to keep the water level consistent, Maciunas said. Provo wants to maintain the area as a wetlands bank for future mitigation.
Maciunas said the corps is satisfied with Provo's proposal. "We feel like we're getting high-value wetlands out of the mitigation," he said.
Mark Clemens, representing the Sierra Club in Utah County, doesn't think the area can be turned into wetlands.
"I doubt whether these lands could be developed unless they were filled, which of course would exact mitigation on its own," he wrote in a letter to the corps.
Should the area become wetlands, Clemens said, an organization like the Nature Conservancy should maintain it, not the city of Provo. A conservationist group "would more consistently act to protect and defend ecological values" of the land, he said.
Earlier this summer, several state and federal agencies asked the corps to withhold the permit, saying Provo's application lacked a wetlands mitigation plan. The plan was not included in public notices regarding runway expansion.
Those agencies have since bought off on the plan to create wetlands in south Provo.
"It has merit," said John Fairchild, Division of Wildlife Resources habitat manager. "That's an area that can be enhanced." Wetlands in that part of the city may benefit some species more than would improving the lake's shoreline, he said.
Hayes worries about the birds that live on the lake. An encounter with an aircraft will cause a wreck someday, she said.
"There will be a bird strike, and that will be a tragedy," Hayes said. She fears officials will then try to eliminate birds from the bay.