Obstruction/Tree Removal Project at Tacoma Narrows Airport
About the Project
With approval and funding from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Pierce County is currently working on the removal of trees on Pierce County property that have been identified as a hazard to air navigation at the Tacoma Narrows Airport.
This project is among several projects detailed in the Tacoma Narrows Airport Master Plan, which was adopted by the Pierce County Council in 2016. The Obstruction/Tree Removal project is designed to improve safety at the airport and bring the runway and taxiway at Tacoma Narrows Airport in compliance with current FAA standards.
The Obstruction/Tree Removal project will be conducted in multiple phases over the next several years as funding allows and is prioritized by trees growing within the most critical areas. All the trees up for removal are located on the 568-acre airport property and have been identified as obstructing or will obstruct the airport safety zones in next five years.
The overall project discusses removing 2,055 individual trees, as well as 51.7 acres of clearing and grubbing. However, the completion of future phases will be dependent on funding.
Due to funding availability, this project has been postponed. This phase is scoped to remove 33 trees on the north end of the airport, in addition to 12.5 acres of clearing and grubbing.
Phase 2 of this project is anticipated to take place in 2027. The scope of the removal will be dependent on the FAA's continuous assessment of hazards to navigation and the FAA funding available in the 2026 and 2027 budget years.
Why is the project necessary?
Failure to remove the identified obstructions would violate FAA safety requirements and would result in noncompliance with agreements for funding that have already been received.
We recognize the importance of addressing potential safety hazards for airport operations, as well as being good stewards of the environment and good neighbors. Therefore, we are working closely with the FAA in identifying the trees that need to be removed in a phased, strategic approach.
2016 Airport Master Plan
The Tacoma Narrows Airport Master Plan, adopted by the Pierce County Council in 2016, serves as Pierce County’s guide for development of the airport for the 20-year planning period and beyond.
The Master Plan is not intended to expand the airport beyond its current footprint, and there are no future plans for an expansion. The County is also not considering the addition of commercial service at the airport.
With funding provided by the FAA, Pierce County secured the services of DOWL Engineering to complete an Environmental Assessment for several projects proposed at the Tacoma Narrows Airport through 2026, including the tree removal project.
As part of the Environmental Assessment process, a public comment period was held from Feb. 16 through March 17, 2022.
After reviewing the public comments, the FAA completed the Final Environmental Assessment and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) agreement in April 2022. The FONSI agreement outlined the maximum amount of tree removal and clearing and grubbing that may be needed to meet FAA safety requirements.
The FAA’s Final Environmental Assessment included which trees were eligible for removal by Pierce County. The trees are located on both ends of the runway, but the majority are located at the north end of the runway.
The initial assessment of the airspace around Tacoma Narrows Airport showed approximately 18,000 trees that were intersecting or will intersect the airspace in the next five years.
Since then, Pierce County has worked with the FAA to limit the scope to 2,055 individual trees and 51.7 acres of clearing and grubbing.
Cutting vs. Topping a Tree
The FAA will fund the tree removal related to the 2016 Airport Master Plan only once. Therefore, Pierce County’s long-term solution is to remove obstructions from the navigable airspace and replant with low-growing native shrubs in some areas to reduce the number of trees from becoming an obstruction in the future.
Fully removing the trees will mitigate reoccurring maintenance costs and will provide a long-term solution to the obstruction issues.
While topped and/or trimmed trees can become attractive for bird roosting/nesting sites, they are not preferred methods by arborists due to the long-term health of that tree. Topping the tree removes their primary source of food, and the wound from this practice makes them susceptible to fungal decay and insect attack.
If the tree(s) get sick and die after topping, Pierce County will be financially responsible for removing the tree(s).
Clearing and Grubbing
Where possible, trees are being selectively removed to retain the surrounding vegetation.
Clearing and grubbing is only proposed where trees that require removal are so dense that selective removal is not practical.
Clearing and grubbing across all phases of this project will remove a total of 51.7 acres located primarily north and west of the runway—in addition to the 2,055 individual trees.
The first phase of the project is scheduled to begin in the fall 2023 and will remove 33 individual trees and clear and grub 12.5 acres. Future phases of the project. The completion of future phases will be dependent on funding.
This practice involves a combination of:
- Removing entire trees from the airport
- Leaving branches and removing larger logs
- Chipping the trees on-site
Low, native shrubs will not be impacted.
2016: Adoption of Tacoma Narrows Airport Master Plan by the Pierce County Council.
April 21 – May 3, 2021: Pierce County online open house on the proposed Master Plan Update.
Feb. 16 – March 17, 2022: Public comment period on the Draft Environmental Assessment.
April 2022: FAA issues Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) agreement.
May 2023: Request for proposal issued for Airport Master Plan projects.
July 2023: Re-issue request for proposal for reduced project scope.
August 2023: Award contract.
Fall 2023: Project postponed due to funding availability.
2027: Phase 2 of this project is anticipated. (The scope of the removal will be dependent on the FAA's continuous assessment of hazards to navigation and the FAA funding available in the 2026 and 2027 budget years.)
The 2016 TIW Master Plan does not show a significant change in the 65 day/night noise averages for airport operations after obstruction removal. This is a measure of nuisance level noise set by the FAA and is the standard used for general aviation.
This fall, nearby residents may be impacted by tree removal and clearing activities, such as chainsaws, woodchippers, and trucks.
The tree removal work will occur outside of the nesting period for migratory birds, including streaked horned lark, which is between March 16 and Sept. 1.
Additionally, the tree removal project is not expected to impact the streaked horned lark – a known endangered species at the airport. Their habitat is open fields and wetlands, and the tree removal will not take place in these areas.
The activities and improvements called out for implementation as part of the 2016 Tacoma Narrows Airport Master Plan are and will be funded through a series of grants from the FAA, Pierce County, and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
The overall cost for all phases of the tree removal project is anticipated at approximately $2.5 million with potential return from the sale of timber, though this amount is not yet known. The FAA will cover 90% of the total Airport Master Plan project cost with remaining 10% split with the County and WSDOT.