Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Airport hassles bring more turbulence
Plane owners want answers on future of town’s runway
By Kimberly Bolander
The Redding (CA) Record Searchlight

TRINITY CENTER — Trinity County is working to resolve complaints about tall trees, higher rent and a slowly expiring use permit at the small airport here. But plane owners may not be willing to wait.

One couple is ready to build a $1 million retirement home in Trinity Center, along with two hangars at the Trinity Center airport, said Bruce Dunn, owner of Associated Construction and Plumbing.

But worries about the airport’s future relationship with the U.S. Forest Service have made the couple hesitant to proceed, Dunn said.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” he said.

In Trinity Center, the county’s 30-year special use permit allows it to operate part of the airport there on Forest Service land.

But the permit expires in about seven years and might not be renewed as usual, said Wyatt Paxton, Trinity County director of building and development services.

John Schuyler, public uses staff member for the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, said he understands anxiety about building private hangars on land not yet guaranteed to remain an airport.

“I can empathize with them, that it makes it difficult,” he said.

However, there is little danger of the airport’s use permit not being renewed as long as it continues to abide by the terms of the permit, Schuyler said.

But a recent hike in the county’s special use fee could make meeting those terms more difficult.

After a reappraisal of the airport land, the Forest Service last month raised the county’s annual special use fee from about $400 to $1,340, Schuyler said. Although the fee can increase every five years, the figure hadn’t been updated since 1982, he said.

“There was an accumulation of value over the years, and that’s why the jump looks so great,” he said.

But if Trinity County — which considered bankruptcy last fall — can’t pay the yearly fee, its use permit wouldn’t necessarily be revoked, Schuyler said.

“We’d negotiate something that could work for both parties,” he said.

Regardless, the office of U.S. Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, is now involved and may challenge the appraisal, Paxton said.

“We believe the appraisal is too high,” Paxton said.

The county can’t afford to buy the airport’s land from the Forest Service, but its representatives would like to work out a swap, deed or the gifting of the land, Paxton said.

If they can, private-plane owners may be more comfortable continuing their plans to add four hangars to about 30 already there.

In exchange, they would get 30 years’ use of the four structures, paying the county about $240 each per year for the land use, Trinity County Pilots Association secretary Don Mullen said.

The county would collect about $500 each in annual property taxes, plus property tax on the planes stored in them — an estimated $2,000 each per year, Mullen said.

After 30 years, the four hangars become county property and can be rented out for an estimated $3,000 a year each, Mullen said.

For now, Mullen and county representatives have other complaints about the Forest Service.

For about four years, officials have put off county requests to trim trees from flight paths, Mullen said.

But a meeting held this month with representatives from the county, Forest Service and Herger’s office set Memorial Day weekend as the target for having about 250 pine trees at the airstrip’s north end trimmed or felled, Paxton said.

Contractor Dunn is among those skeptical about the promises being made.

“It’s fine to say there was this meeting and it looks favorable,” he said. “But when’s ‘favorable’ going to get done?”