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6:45 PM Wed, Sept. 19th

Prescott OK's grant application for wildlife assessment at airport

PRESCOTT - Five or six times a year, small airplanes at the Prescott Airport hit birds as they are taking off or landing.

Local resident Ed Parry, a long-time pilot, maintains that "there is nothing more frightening." And he urged the city to move forward with a federal grant application to cover the cost of a Wildlife Hazard Assessment at Prescott's Ernest A. Love Field Airport.

"For people to think we don't have a problem, you know better than that," Parry told members of the Prescott City Council on Tuesday.

But not all of the council members were convinced that the problem was serious enough to warrant an $85,000 study - $4,250 of which would come out of the city's budget.

In his introduction of the matter, Airport Manager Ben Vardiman reported that a bird had hit a Great Lakes Airlines flight this past spring, prompting the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to mandate the wildlife assessment for the Prescott Airport.

Councilman Bob Roecker questioned the need.

"Where is the logic here?" Roecker asked. "One bird in 100 years, and we spend $85,000?"

Vardiman noted, however, that while the Great Lakes incident was the "triggering event" for the wildlife assessment, general-aviation aircraft at the Prescott Airport encounter birds on a fairly regular basis.

"We have five or six bird strikes year," Vardiman said.

After the meeting, he said birds such as red-tail hawks, crows, sparrows, and swallows, and geese are common in the airport area.

In addition, Vardiman said, other wildlife such as porcupine, antelope, javelina, and coyote also have been spotted at the airport. All could pose a threat to airplanes taking off and landing at the airport, he said.

The bird that hit Great Lakes Airlines' commercial flight - while it caused no significant damage to the aircraft - did bring about a delay in the flight.

And several council members emphasized that the potential existed for a much more serious situation.

"Can a bird bring a plane down?" Councilman Jim Lamerson asked.

"Yes, it can," Vardiman responded, referring to the US Airways flight that landed in the Hudson River in January after encountering bird strike on its takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport.

"That's what we need to concentrate on," Lamerson said.

But Roecker - although he said he planned to vote for the FAA grant application - continued to argue the logic of the assessment.

"We're going to spend $85,000 on a bird; this is crazy," he said, pointing out that thousands of people die each year in highway accidents. "If we could hire one more cop (instead), we'd save a lot more lives."

Ultimately, the council voted unanimously to approve the grant application.

Afterwards, Vardiman said the assessment likely would come up with ways to mitigate the wildlife situation at the airport.

For instance, he said, the study could recommend techniques such as habitat management, controlling the food sources for the wildlife, fencing, and - in the "worst-case scenario" - a "lethal take" of the animals.

If the council had not pursued the FAA grant, Vardiman said the city still would have been responsible for conducting the wildlife assessment, or would have risked the loss of eligibility for federal grant money.

The $4,250 for the local match will come from the money that the city budgeted for other grants that did not materialize, Vardiman said.