SHIPROCK — The Navajo Division of Transportation is asking the public to submit their ideas for the future of the tribe's five airports.
The transportation division is developing an airport system master plan and intends to identify what improvements are needed at each airport, as well as layout and funding plans.
Officials held a public workshop Tuesday at the Shiprock Chapter house.
Shiprock has one paved runway, which is 4,840 feet long and 75 feet wide. It is a public-use, general aviation airstrip, located approximately six miles south of the community's central business district on U.S. Highway 491.
The tribe also operates airports in Crownpoint, N.M., and in Chinle, Window Rock and Tuba City, which area all in Arizona.
"One thing I noticed is that airports throughout the Navajo Nation have been underutilized, underdeveloped, and need improvement," said Arlando Teller, a program manager with the transportation division who is overseeing development of the master plan.
Teller said it took four years for the division to secure a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to pay for creating the plan.
Part of the planning process includes conducting public workshops to provide information about the study and to gather public input.
So far, workshops also were held in the Arizona chapters of Chinle and St. Michaels. There will be two workshops today from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Crownpoint Chapter house.
A final session will be Aug. 19 in Tuba City, Ariz.
At the Shiprock workshop, residents were asked to think about what kind of development they would like to see at the airstrip, including runway renovations, adding lighting or new buildings.
Shiprock resident Frankie Johnson said additional security measures would be necessary if new construction took place at the airstrip.
"Will there be security? When new development starts, there's always a security issue," he said.
This study would not only identify infrastructure improvements but also security issues that need addressing, Teller said.
In addition to security issues, residents were also concerned about the land the runway occupies being properly withdrawn, especially if there are plans to expand, and how to take advantage if improvements occurred.
But Johnson also saw the economic benefit of improvements and upgrades.
"Travelers would be able to take advantage of Shiprock airport in a whole new way," he said. "For sure it will attract business people."
Viviene Tallbull, chairwoman of the Shiprock Planning Commission, added: "It would enhance the tourism in our area."
And if upgrades and development were to happen, she asked, would management of the airport be handled by tribal personnel in Window Rock, Ariz., or by local officials.
Right now, airport maintenance is routinely scheduled and the needed personnel travel from Window Rock rather than from the local area.
"I'd rather see one of your people out there, maintaining the airport," Teller said.
"We have people who land, that are looking for the airstrip and they can't find it so they land on the road going to Red Valley. I seen that and they nearly hit the power lines," Tallbull said, adding that lights are needed on the runway.
As part of the outreach, a help line, which offers information in English and Navajo, is available at 1-844-628-2561 or online at www.navajoairports.com.Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nsmithdt on Twitter.