LAX Modernization Plan Moves On

Friday, February 25, 2005
FAA denies request to delay airport modernization plan
Five Democratic members of Congress had asked the agency to hold off ruling on the plan until a panel hears appeals by county and city of El Segundo.
By Ian Gregor
The Torrance (CA) Daily Breeze

Federal officials have rejected a request to delay the Los Angeles International Airport modernization plan until all appeals of the controversial proposal are heard. Five Democratic members of Congress, including South Bay Reps. Jane Harman, Maxine Waters and Juanita Millender-McDonald, had asked the Federal Aviation Administration to hold off ruling on the plan until an obscure county panel considers appeals of the project that were filed by Los Angeles County and the city of El Segundo.

FAA officials, however, decided this week that there is “no substantive reason” to further delay a process that has taken 10 years and cost the city of Los Angeles $130 million.

“Ten years and two council votes later, it’s time to move forward with the process,” FAA spokesman Greg Martin said. “There are some critical safety and airfield improvements we need to get moving on.”

The FAA expects to issue its Record of Decision on the LAX plan next month, Martin said. He stressed that the agency has not decided whether to approve the plan.

The FAA’s decision to adhere to its initial timetable provoked an angry response from Harman.

In a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Harman said she was “extremely disappointed” that the FAA is poised to rule on the entire LAX modernization plan rather than limit its decision to a handful of popular modernization projects. She implied that she and Mineta had discussed the possibility of a limited FAA ruling, and urged the secretary to instruct the agency to undertake such an action.

A City Council aide said local officials had discussed asking the FAA if it could issue a decision only on the popular, or “consensus,” projects. But the aide said he didn’t know if anyone had made a formal request to that effect.

Robert Johnson, director of public affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation, said Mineta has a policy of not commenting on his discussions with members of Congress.

“I’m not in a position to get into relating what was discussed during those exchanges,” Johnson said.

Another federal official, however, said the FAA can issue decisions only on an entire plan it is presented with and not on portions of a plan. In the case of LAX modernization, the Los Angeles City Council approved the entire plan while limiting which projects can be built without additional rigorous reviews.

“The FAA can’t cherry-pick certain aspects” of a plan, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Last December, the City Council decided that popular LAX modernization projects — including southern runway improvements and an on-airport rental car facility — can be built relatively soon. Controversial projects — such as the new entrance in the Manchester Square neighborhood 1? miles east of the airfield — would have to undergo further studies and security analyses before construction could begin.

Martin, the FAA spokesman, said the agency might perform additional reviews of controversial projects that the City Council makes changes to in the future.

The five members of Congress asked the FAA earlier this month to delay its decision because the Los Angeles County Airport Land Use Commission may take until May to rule on the appeals of the LAX plan. The appeals argue that the plan is inconsistent with the county’s airport noise and safety regulations.

Several lawsuits also have been filed challenging the plan’s environmental review.