South Lake Tahoe Airport Tower Remains Open

Wednesday, June 2, 2004
South Lake Tahoe Airport Tower Remains Open
By Susan Wood
The Tahoe (CA) Daily Tribune

The Lake Tahoe Airport tower dodged another close call Tuesday. On a vote of 4 to 1, the South Lake Tahoe City Council agreed to raise the landing rates to offset the doubling of Federal Aviation Administration-imposed fees. Councilman Hal Cole opposed the action because he believes the closing of the tower is inevitable.

“Funding the tower just depletes limited resources,” he said.

Councilwoman Kathay Lovell agreed to a certain extent, but she voted in favor of raising the fees to bring in more revenue.

“No one can argue with the comfort of the tower to these people. But we have to look at where we are with the budget,” she said. “When we’re talking firemen and policemen, it’s going to hit safety somewhere.

The city is facing an estimated $3 million shortfall for the 2004-05 fiscal year, which starts in October. However, the council works on the financial blueprint for the city as early as this month.

But for Mayor Tom Davis, the decision came down to safety at the airport.

“What’s a life worth?” he said, warning the alternative may be crashes.

The issue has brought out a multitude of pilots who have cited the importance of the tower for flying into the valley-based airport. According to many pilots, the wind currents pose hazards unlike the Truckee and Minden airports, which operate without towers.

The city faces a more than $222,000 bill to run the tower, which, if closed, would nullify any chance of commercial air service returning to the airport after an absence of a few years. It’s paid up through October.

Tuesday’s decision raises the fees from $2.70 per 1,000 pounds to $3.70, with the exception of planes under 6,000 pounds.

According to staff estimates, the landing fee rates still may not go far enough to close the budget shortfall gap ? which appears to amount to $48,000.

Still, Airport Manager Mike Dikun said air traffic has risen 40 percent in the first five months of this year. He’s optimistic the trend will continue.

The airport staff has also been working on an agreement to charge $500 a year to ground-transportation carriers such as buses, limousines and taxi cabs who roll out to the tarmac for their clients. The rate structure has been in place since January, but an agreement had not been signed between the parties and the airport.