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West End Thunder gets chance at extension from FAA

West End Thunder’s summertime series of drag races may be back on track for 2012.

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has proposed a new, and unique, possible solution to a year-long impasse over the temporary use of the runways of Forks Municipal Airport for drag racing.

The races have been held about five weekends a summer since 2005 at the Forks airport, which is owned by the City of Forks. Those racing the dragsters, their entourages and hundreds of fans at each event have helped improve the economy of Forks.

“Tonight we have news,” Monohon told the Forks City Council and representatives of West End Thunder attending the council’s bi-monthly meeting held Monday evening, Nov. 28 in the Council Chambers.
Monohon said a letter from the FAA dated Nov. 18 had been received.

The City Council voted to have the City of Forks, with City Attorney/Planner Rod Fleck  taking a lead role, take part in researching and writing a comprehensive report to be sent to the FAA with hopes of being a  pilot project for temporary closures of airports for non-aviation uses. The results of the project could have implications for cities across the nation that use airports with FAA oversight for drag racing, grand prix races and other motor sports events.

The FAA letter laid out their proposal: “In response to the City’s (the City of Forks) request and others from airports across the country, the FAA has developed a new assessment tool to determine if the temporary closure of an airport for non-aeronautical  events is in the best interest of civil aviation. As a result, we are able to offer this process to you as a beta test of the tool.”

The letter was signed by FAA Seattle Airports District Office Acting Manager Stanley Allison.
Fleck said in the letter the FAA has set deadlines to be met. A decision to move forward would be needed by Dec. 15. Following discussion of the FAA request the City Council unanimously approved moving forward.

“This is good news that has taken a huge effort to get this point,” Monohon said following the council’s vote.

Along with the letter a lengthy, comprehensive request for a detailed study of the plan to drag race at the Forks airport was outlined. The deadline for turning the study into the FAA is Feb. 28, 2012, a time period of about 90 days.

The study will officially be titled “Request for  Temporary Airport Closure for a Non-Aeronautical Event.”

If the plan is approved by the FAA West End Thunder drag racing club will be allowed to hold its 2012 season at the Forks airport. Acceptance of the plan could possibly also allow for additional years of racing at the venue located on the south end of the town.

Representatives of West End Thunder attending the meeting said they gladly accepted the chance to keep racing and promised to take an active role in filling out the many questions the FAA is asking in its pilot project paper. They thanked the city, Fleck in particular, for their persistence and work that resulted in the FAA coming back with a new offer.

Monohon said the Port of Port Angeles has already agreed to provide assistance, and that help from the Clallam County Economic Development Council and other sources would be sought.

Fleck asked the West End Thunder representatives if they could provide legal counsel as part of their role in drafting the study. He said due to the tight deadline a team effort will be needed.
However, in closing the letter, the FAA warned that creating the study and submitting it wouldn’t guarantee a green light for the 2012 drags.

“If, after reviewing your request and clarifying any additional questions we may have, we determine that this proposal cannot meet the requirements to approve a temporary closure of the airport for racing, then the City will need to pursue one of the other two options outlined above.”

The FAA request for information is broken down into five general areas: impact on aeronautical use, liability and risks, security and safety, financial and local benefits and an overview of the airport’s location and its aviation use.

In each section the FAA asks for detailed information. The outline paper runs over eight single-spaced, typewritten pages.

Monohon said the financial side of the agreement would require the City of Forks to use revenue it receives from West End Thunder for use of the airport to pay for improvements to aviation at the airport.

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