A $22 million extension of the primary runway at the Fort Smith Regional Airport necessary for the planned arrival of a foreign military pilot training center will cost the city of Fort Smith one dog park.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors approved an ordinance during a June 15 board meeting amending the 2021 operating budget and authorizing the appropriation of funds from the available general fund balance to fund the city’s portion of the Ebbing Air National Guard Base Runway Project.
The city committed $5 million toward a $22 million project to extend the runway at the base by 1,300 additional feet. The $22 million dollar project is a collaboration between the state, which committed the other $17 million for the project, and the city for the new military mission. The base was recently selected to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by counties participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program.
It is estimated that 345 U.S. military personnel would be part of the center and an estimated 180-plus members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents. Training and aircraft from Finland and Poland may also be part of the FMS site in the future. At the board meeting Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the extended runway could also help the Fort Smith Regional Airport.
City Administrator Carl Geffken said Tuesday that the dog park would need to close in order for that project to be completed. He said the city is working on a plan to replace the dog park at the airport. The dog park is located at the Corner of Massard Road and Louisville Street on the east side of Fort Smith.
“We know how well the Airport Dog Park was used and (how) well it was regarded so we will need to replace it. We are aware of residents who are working to find other locations and our Parks Department would like to know their thoughts,” Geffken said.
A paper sign attached to the dog park fence, states, “We are losing the Fort Smith Dog Park to the new airport extension. Join a group to explore ideas of how to get for (sic) a new decent site, or sites, comparable to the one that we have and will lose. All of us together can do it! Join the Facebook Group: ‘Friends of Fort Smith Dog Park.’” Suggestions on the page range from using a location in the city that is prone to flooding and thus not usable for other projects to fencing off areas in some of Fort Smith’s other parks, using some of the space between the Riverfront Skate & Bike Park and the U.S. Marshals Museum or taking part of the now closed Fianna Hills Golf Course and fencing off for a dog park.
“I would say there is concern about the closure of the dog park because it’s a great dog park and our residents enjoyed having it available for their use. But they, along with the vast majority of our residents, understand the reason to close the dog park due to the incredible amount of support in the Fort Smith community for the F35 project and our military installations in Fort Smith,” Geffken said. “I’ve read that there are residents who are looking to work constructively to find alternatives to replace the Airport Dog Park, and we look forward to their input.”
He added that though he does not personally use the dog park, from what he has seen driving by it and what he has read, the park is well used. The process to relocate the park is in its early stages, he said, noting there have not been any suggestions from private individuals for a private/public partnership for a new dog park like the city has seen with other new parks, including the skate and bike park.
“The dog park isn’t closing yet so we should have time to be able to work with those individuals and/or companies that are willing to help with the new dog park,” Geffken said.
No date has been announced for a closing, but this is not the first time the subject has been broached. When Lee’s Summit, Mo.-based Coffman Associates presented steps to improve the airport at a public open house in May 2019, they made suggestions about extending the runway. At the time, they said if the extension was taken to the east it would affect the dog park.
There are two dog parks in Fort Smith other than the Airport Dog Park, the dog park at Fort Smith Park, 5301 Riverfront Drive, and the dog park at Chaffee Crossing, 8204 Veterans Ave., which opened Oct. 1.