A 20-year lease extension has been granted for the Jackson Hole Airport, which lies within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park.
The extension was largely a foregone conclusion. Had park officials not made that decision, the airport might have run into serious financial problems as soon as 2013 due to Federal Aviation Administration requirements. The requirements in play require airports that don't own the land on which they sit -- and the 533-acre footprint of the airport is on federal land surrounded by the national park -- to have at least 20 years left on its lease to qualify for FAA funding.
While the National Parks Conservation Association recognized the need for the extension, officials at its Grand Teton field office nevertheless urged the Park Service to "use all tools within their jurisdictional authority to protect the park from excessive noise and harmful impacts to its native wildlife."
“Due to the airport’s sensitive location, it is essential that its operations are subject to the utmost scrutiny in order to protect the national park from noise, artificial light, chemical pollutants and other intrusive impacts to its world renowned scenery and wildlife,” said Sharon Mader, the advocacy group's Grand Teton program manager. “The Park Service’s primary mission is to preserve and protect park resources for the enjoyment of future generations. We can’t lose sight of that mission when considering the significant impacts of an airport within a national park.”
The final Record of Decision strengthens the Jackson Hole Airport Use Agreement and urges stronger measures to protect park resources from the effects of the airport, according to the NPCA.
“This effort shows strong leadership by NPS and is a step in the right direction,” Ms. Mader said. “Yet there is a noticeable absence of specific time-frames and deadlines for completing mitigation actions, particularly in reducing noise levels at the Grand Teton National Park. The board is aware of the need to reduce the airport’s effects on the park, but has struggled to implement meaningful operational changes such as using the radar control tower to direct pilots to land and take off from the south — a voluntary provision in the existing use agreement.
"Despite the fact that this provision has been in place since the 1983 use agreement was signed, 85 percent of all flights still land from the north over Grand Teton National Park.”
The Record of Decision restricts future growth of the airport beyond the existing boundaries and warns that efforts to expand the airport’s footprint will likely result in moving the airport out of the park to an alternative site in the region.
NPCA has not advocated for the relocation of the airport outside of the park during this process. Instead, the group is focused on ensuring that reasonable and enforceable mitigation is in place to protect park resources as airport use continues to grow, the group said.