Public participation in master plans: How much Is enough?

Posted in: Aviation

Mark-Breukink-presenting-at-public-involvement-meetingWhen scoping an airport master plan, it’s important to ask yourself, “How much public participation is enough?” While it can be a difficult question to answer, it’s one that should be carefully considered because of the implications it can have.

I once read, “If you want to know how the shoe fits, ask the person who is wearing it, not the one who made it (Wates, 2000).” An airport has a huge number of stakeholders such as airlines, general aviation pilots, tenants, public passengers, maintenance staff, various FAA lines of business and a whole host of others. The level with which to involve these various stakeholders in the planning process needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

Stakeholder involvement and community outreach and relations can be a costly component of an airport master plan, so we need to be cognizant of how much effort to expend. However, depending upon the community and the level of controversy or conflict, it may be more costly in the long run if it is not adequately included.

There are many benefits of public participation, but it’s not always easy to quantify them. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Increased project understanding by the community and a reduction of public opposition that comes from fear of the unknown
  • An opportunity to solicit and obtain “hidden” knowledge of the wider community
  • Bringing a wider array of people to the planning process provides a broader range of perspectives and ideas
  • Feelings of ownership, making the public even greater stakeholders in the project’s success
  • Reduced potential for changes and costs later in the process by addressing public concerns early on
  • A foundation of consent by building credibility and trust

During project scoping, it’s essential to discuss prior projects, public participation levels, what has worked well, what hasn’t worked well, and previous and potential future public controversies, so that we can custom-tailor a stakeholder and community involvement plan that’s right for each project.

So, the right amount of public participation varies, depending upon the project, the airport and its community. We need to think carefully about the appropriate amount of outreach, but not be too limited in our efforts that we jeopardize long-term success.

Mark Breukink, PE

About the Author

Mark Breukink, P.E., is a Business Unit Leader for Mead & Hunt’s Aviation Services managing the aviation planning, engineering design, environmental, and project management services in the eastern U.S.  Mark is active with Airports Council International – North America and is a member of their Operations & Technical Affairs Committee. Outside of work, Mark is an avid sports fan cheering on his alma mater Michigan State University.

Read more posts by Mark Breukink, PE

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