Santa Paula Airport Waiting for Word on Damage Aid

Wednesday, March 2, 2005
Reopening Monday: SP Airport waiting for word on damage aid
By Peggy Kelly
The Santa Paula (CA) Times

The only traffic at Santa Paula Airport on Saturday was a noisy ultra-light aircraft that buzzed the damaged airfield several times before flying away over the Santa Clara River towards Fillmore. Santa Paula aviators were keeping a wary eye on the sky and the river after raging waters last week eroded the bank about halfway into the western end of the single runway of the world famous airport. Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Association, said Saturday that the private emergency response to shore up the banks, coupled with receding river waters, was holding further damage at bay but that help is needed soon. There is a possibility that the airport could reopen on a limited basis Monday, Mason noted. “The best case scenario is that the runway would be about 1,200 feet and prior permission would be required” for access.

“We need whatever help we can get,” said Pete Mason. A meeting is set for Wednesday between airport officials and those of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District to discuss repairs. There is talk of several grants that could be split between the airport and Santa Paula Creek to remove debris from the middle of the waterways that caused bank erosion.

During January’s five-day record storm about 40 feet was lost when river waters nibbled away at the bank on the airport’s south side, with the damage stopping at the runway’s edge. During last week’s storm the still-sodden earth caused a torrent of runoff, complicated by not only the release of waters from Santa Paula Creek but also from the state’s decision to release waters from the Castaic Dam. The dam release put pressure on the dam at Lake Piru, and for a while it seemed that all waters converged next to the airport runway.

Overnight, historic Santa Paula Airport was under siege and closed Tuesday for a days-long emergency effort to shore up the crumbling banks of the river. Rep. Elton Gallegly, a pilot and airport visitor for more than three decades, said he was “overwhelmed” by the damage when he visited the airport on Wednesday and pledged his help.

The river receded Wednesday, but not before it took a 150-foot-deep slice out of the side and into the center of the airport’s only runway. About one-third of the 2,650-foot runway was lost. At the height of last week’s storm, city officials estimated that the waters were cutting out the bank at a rate of about a foot a minute.

Although a private entity, the airport has been used as a staging area for times of emergency including shutting down for several days in recent years during destructive wildfires.

Gallegly said last week that he would examine all options, from using Navy Seabees for reconstruction as training to asking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to extend a January declaration of disaster to cover the airport damage. Gallegly also said that the Natural Resources Conservation Service might also be utilized, as well as other government agency resources.