San Diego Expansion- Corte Madera Valley is off the table

Friday, January 7, 2005
Agency kills idea of airport in forest
Further consideration of the site is rejected
By Jeff Ristine
The San Diego (CA) Union Tribune

It never seemed very likely, and now the idea of a two-runway international airport in Corte Madera Valley is off the table for good. The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority yesterday unanimously rejected any further consideration of the wilderness location in East County, the product of a countywide computer search for overlooked sites that meet minimal standards for an airport.

In nearly four months of discussion, the notion of building an airport on land partly within the Cleveland National Forest never drew so much as a single supporter.

“Corte Madera – that is history,” board Chairman Joseph W. Craver declared after the vote, lest anyone suspect the proposal might resurface someday.

What struck many from the very beginning as a ludicrous concept – building an airport within a national forest would require an act of Congress, Cabinet-level approval and a possibly unaffordable land swap – illustrated the deliberate nature of the airport agency’s search for a location to replace or augment Lindbergh Field.

The agency staff, its consultants and Cleveland National Forest authorities noted seemingly insurmountable odds to the idea from the very beginning. An airport in Corte Madera Valley would face periodic closures from aerial firefighting activity, would ruin the quiet of two wilderness areas and put irreplaceable wildlife habitats directly beneath flight paths, analysts said.

The region was excluded from previous consideration for the same reason that state parks and Indian reservations were left out: It seemed out of reach.

Yet Corte Madera passed all the initial criteria used to arrive at a list of nine other potential airport locations, based on factors such as noise impacts and a rough estimate of the population that would have to be relocated.

A board majority last year decided Corte Madera at least should face some serious discussion, if for no other reason than to specify the idea’s fatal flaws.

As board Vice Chairman Paul Nieto put it, the agency doesn’t want its work to end with accusations that “you didn’t look here, you didn’t look there.”

But Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Teresa Sessom, one of nine authority board members, said the review had gone far enough.

To continue studying sites “we know clearly are not going to work,” Sessom said, risks the credibility of the greater mission to narrow the options to one.

The authority board hopes to select a site next year and present it to voters on the November 2006 ballot.

Still in the running are sites near Borrego Springs and the Campo/Boulevard/Manzanita area, and the Imperial County desert. A major expansion of Lindbergh Field also is under consideration.

The agency also wants to study up to five military sites – the Marines’ Miramar Air Station, East Miramar, Camp Pendleton, the Navy’s North Island Air Station and March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County – depending on the outcome of this year’s federal review of possible base closures.

The airport-site study is focused on distance, travel time and other market factors as consultants assess how travelers and airlines would react to the nonmilitary sites.