San Diego Airport Authority to Consider Desert Sites

Friday, July 9, 2004
More sites put in mix in airport relocation Forest, park, Indian lands to be checked
By Jeff Ristine

The search for sites for a new regional airport was reopened yesterday after the agency in charge of the process agreed to consider national forest, state park and Indian lands excluded from a previous study. In a unanimous vote, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board sent consultants back to their computers to analyze about 400,000 acres left out of the earlier search, including the Cleveland National Forest and Anza-Borrego state park.

Officials acknowledged there still would be significant hurdles to developing any site that may emerge from the new study, but the appearance of conducting a comprehensive search may be just as important as any results.

Yesterday’s vote also added two remote East County locations from a previous search – one near Campo and one near Borrego Springs – to the list of places being considered. The decision could put up to nine options into play for the site-selection project, expected to end with a proposal that will be presented to voters countywide in November 2006.

Consultants from Ricondo & Associates plan to initiate the new geographic information systems search immediately and report on the results in September.

When the first computer-based study began last year, the airport authority decided U.S. Forest Service land and state parks weren’t worth the trouble because of environmental guidelines protecting the areas from significant development. Indian lands were excluded because sovereignty rights tend to keep them unavailable.

Lakes and reservoirs, military installations and sites previously studied but rejected from consideration for an airport also were deemed off-limits.

But when an advisory panel considered the Campo and Borrego Springs locations at meetings in April and June, several members speculated whether a more wide-ranging search might have produced more results. In the case of Indian reservations, some said, the airport authority may never know whether a tribe is open to the idea of developing an airport unless it asks.

Joe Huy of Ricondo & Associates said the nearly 400,000 acres that will be studied in the second run will include Cleveland National Forest, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park and Palomar Mountain State Park. The consulting firm is performing the work as part of a broader 15-month, $4.7 million contract.

Board member Paul Nieto, echoing comments from the advisory panel, said reopening the search is important to show the public that the process has been “deliberate” and all-inclusive, unlike most previous airport studies.

“I don’t want anybody to think it would be easy” to acquire any of the land for an airport, Nieto said. “We would probably have to change state or federal law to use any of these sites.”

The agency turned to a geographic information systems analysis, which uses computers to analyze multiple layers of geographic information, when it was criticized for having too many military installations on its original list of seven potential sites.

At the time, the list consisted of the Marines’ Miramar Air Station, East Miramar and Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station, March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, an Imperial County desert site and an expansion of Lindbergh Field, probably requiring land occupied by the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. The two newly proposed locations haven’t been reduced to specific sites yet.

In the Campo area, actually closer to Boulevard and Manzanita, nine distinct airport footprints were identified, all clustered near the junction of state Route 94 and Interstate 8. The seven Borrego Springs proposals lie just west of the Imperial County line, north and south of state Route 78.