It was smiles and handshakes all around Saturday morning (Oct. 6) as the Federal Aviation Administration announced its plans to award $1.05 million to the Taos Regional Airport’s crosswind runway project.
Saturday’s meeting at Town Council Chambers was a historic meeting of Taos Pueblo government, Taos town government and U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman following a tour of the pueblo. The tour highlighted the pueblo’s World Heritage Site, which tribal officials have been fighting for more than 20 years to protect from potential flyovers that could compromise ancient buildings and sacred wilderness areas.
Tribal officials celebrated the agreement at council chambers.
“I'm very happy to sit here now. And I certainly appreciate the FAA and all those concerned who have been very cooperative,” pueblo Gov. Laureano Romero said. “This year, I found out we were are very good neighbors.”
The new crosswind runway will measure 8,600 feet long by 100 feet wide and will allow planes to land and take off more safely in high winds and to do so without weight limits.
Taos Mayor Darren Córdova called the agreement a victory for all citizens of Taos.
“This was not an easy task to initiate,” Córdova said. “Even though some people said when I took office and made this a priority that it couldn’t happen, all I had to hear was the word ‘can’t.’”
After a lengthy environmental impact assessment, the FAA eventually agreed to raise mandatory altitudes for planes flying over the pueblo to protect the integrity of the preserved historic sites. With the new considerations on the newly signed Record of Decision, the FAA raised the minimum airspace altitude over the heritage site from 2,000 feet to 5,000 feet. The agreement also expanded the minimum altitude over the tribe’s sacred Blue Lake Wilderness Area from 2,000 feet to 3,000 feet.
Acting FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told those assembled in council chambers that the grant would offer $800,000 for the design of the runway, while another $250,000 would further safeguard the pueblo with a “passive monitoring system.”
“The system with gather information that we will use to find out how the airport is functioning,” Huerta said. “It’s taken a lot of people a lot of time to reach this point. I think we got it right. It’s a great day for everyone here in Northern New Mexico.”
For a full story, see the Oct. 11 edition of The Taos News.