Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Council delays airport study
Proposal to consolidate facility draws protests
By Julie Fernandez
The Tulare (CA) Advance-Register
Airport supporters convinced the City Council Tuesday night that more public discussion is needed before deciding whether to study the feasibility of consolidating Tulare’s airport with another. City Manager Kevin Northcraft had asked the council to direct a consultant working on the airport master plan to look also at possible consolidation.
“It’s a large asset that is getting limited use in our community,” Northcraft said.
He cited findings that showed the number of aircraft based at Mefford Field has decreased 50 percent since 1983. He also said the airport is an obstacle to developing industrial properties in the airport area.
After listening to airport supporters, the council directed the city’s Aviation Commission to hold public forums to examine the positive and negative aspects of the airport. A report is expected at the council’s Sept. 21 meeting.
Only Councilman Richard Ortega spoke out strongly in favor of exploring consolidation. He said the city needed to take a look at this “sacred cow” and weigh pluses against the minuses.
“In the past, I’ve seen some real negative things come because of the airport,” Ortega said.
College of the Sequoias’ Tulare campus should be south of the airport, but could not locate there because it would have been in the flight pattern, he said.
The airport, at Avenue 200 east of Highway 99, also affects development of two freeway exchanges, he said.
Economic development is the city’s number one priority and if the airport is “holding us back,” the city needs to look at it, he said.
Mayor David Macedo strongly opposed the idea of consolidation, saying the airport has been at its current location for a long time and the city needs to plan around it.
“That 190 acres is not hindering the growth of this community in any way,” Macedo said.
If the city closed the airport, it would also have to repay the federal aviation grants it has received over the years, Macedo said. He estimated the repayment would be in excess of $1 million.
“Where would you come up with that kind of money?” he said.
Ray Dias, chairman of the Aviation Commission, said earlier he understood Northcraft’s use of the word “consolidation” to mean “elimination of our airport.”
He said the airport master plan the consultant is working on contains proposals that “will be very compatible with the growth of the city.”