Plan to Expand Nut Tree Airport Shelved

Monday, August 23, 2004
Plan to Expand Nut Tree Airport Shelved
By Jason Massad
The Vacaville (CA) Reporter

Plans for a major expansion at the Nut Tree Airport, which has been called “a diamond in the rough” for the county’s general aviation, appear to be grounded. County officials are recommending that the remainder of a $1.3 million loan, received from Caltrans to build about 40 airplane hangars, be sent back to the state.

More than $360,000 of the loan for the embattled project already has been spent on various improvements at the airport, which means the county will owe the state about $31,000 per year for the next 14 years.

But more importantly, scrapping the expansion plans would leave more than 40 airplane owners who are waiting for a hangar on hold, and would delay further the county’s dream of seeing expensive aircraft jetting in and out of the airport.

“We’re trying to re-evaluate,” said Veronica Ferguson, the county’s general services director. “Our commitment is to get new hangars, but the time that’s going to happen is uncertain.”

The proposal to expand the airport, criticized as underperforming in a 2003 audit, has suffered from bad planning and higher-than-expected construction costs.

In March, county officials realized that the project might not fly because of an unplanned $300,000 needed to build a new water line to service the airport.

The water line, tied to the city of Vacaville’s plan for realigning Monte Vista Avenue, unexpectedly was deemed too small by Vacaville Fire Chief Frank Moore to protect any new development at the airport.

On top of the potential cost of the water line, county officials had spent more than $300,000 of the state loan on other airport improvements and the first loan installment.

Nevertheless, the expansion project was put out to bid. The low bid was $2.1 million, about $1 million more than the money available. The highest bid was $3 million.

Skyrocketing costs for steel and concrete contributed to the cost of the project, according to county officials.

Kathy Gibson, interim airport manager, said the failed project is a setback for the airport. Bids included improvements to the water line, which will be needed for any future expansion.

“For now, it not only shelves the hangar project, it also, in essence, shelves any other construction at the airport,” she said.

Officials are recommending an outside review be conducted on the water line project to determine the lowest cost of building it. They also plan to review a long-awaited airport wash rack, which they have received a Federal Aviation Administration grant to build.

The money to build the water line, meanwhile, could come from a county easement on East Monte Vista Avenue that the city needs to realign the road for a planned overpass.

“We’ve lost the opportunity to build the hangars,” Ferguson said. “We’ve gained an opportunity to look at the airport more completely. We can step back and evaluate what’s there.”

The airport, which supervisors are expected to address at their regular meeting Tuesday, has been under the increasing scrutiny since an audit criticized the facility as poorly managed and underperforming.

Former airport manager John Swizer resigned before the audit was completed. The loan for the airport expansion was conceived by Swizer and approved by the Solano County Board of Supervisors in 2002.

Officials said Friday they could be close to naming a new manager at the airport.