Public Says Miramar is the Answer to County's Airport Needs

Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Public says Miramar is the answer to county’s airport needs
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

SAN DIEGO —- If not Lindbergh, make it Miramar. A group of 735 county residents has concluded that if downtown San Diego’s Lindbergh Field can’t serve the region’s long-term airline passenger and cargo needs, they’d support moving the troops out of Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and putting a new commercial airport at the storied military base. And if that can’t happen this year, residents concluded, keep Lindbergh operating until the Pentagon and politicians agree to give it up.

Those recommendations emerged in an Internet-based discussion of the 735 residents —- including 260 from North County —- who took part in the exercise dubbed “Fly Into the Future.”

Peter MacCracken of Strategic Communications told the board of the San Diego County Airport Authority on Monday that Miramar in northeastern San Diego was inescapably “the elephant in the room.”

Miramar, the participants concluded, is the “obvious solution,” to the need for a larger airport, MacCracken said.

An ongoing round of base closures nationwide hasn’t targeted Miramar or any other major bases in the region, and local politicians have long resisted moving the airport to the decades-old base that once was home to the Navy’s Top Gun fighter pilot training.

Despite the decision to keep Miramar open for now, the nine-member authority board should lobby military officials and policy makers to give up the base, MacCracken said the Internet group concluded.

MacCracken also said that while participants felt the most affinity for Lindbergh, they came to understand the challenges of the single-runway air field and kept coming back to Miramar, where base spokesman Sgt. Joshua Stueve said there would be no comment on group’s conclusions.

The airport authority was created by the state Legislature in 2003 to operate Lindbergh and plan for the region’s long-term air transportation needs.

Under its own timetable, the authority has until April to decide whether to recommend county voters adopt a plan to expand Lindbergh or endorse plans for a new airport.

The authority’s recommendation will be drawn from a list of sites that started at 32 and is now at nine. After Lindbergh on the civilian portion of the list are sites in Imperial County, Campo in the southeast area of the county and Borrego Springs in the far eastern area. Borrego and Campo are deemed last resort choices because of their distance.

There also are five military sites —- two at Miramar, Oceanside’s Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station in San Diego and March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County.

Lindbergh, formally known as San Diego International Airport, is by the far the nation’s busiest single-runway commercial air field, with more than 9,000 take-offs and landings each month. It is forecast to be unable to handle growth in passenger and cargo increases by about the year 2020.

The Internet group, whose participants volunteered for the discussion, disagreed with the authority’s bow to political pressure earlier this year when it agreed not to study or even comment on military sites until the current base closure process is complete at year’s end.

Authority staffers are at work on scenarios for construction of a second runway at Lindbergh, which ranks 30th in the nation in the number of passengers who pass through it at more than 15 million a year.

The Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the panel heading the effort to reduce the number of bases nationwide, did press military brass as to why they needed to keep the Marine Corps Recruit Depot next to Lindbergh open when the Marine Corps has a similar facility on the East Coast.

Last week, however, the closure commission agreed to leave the San Diego depot open, effectively closing the door on using that land for airport expansion.

A second runway there would have to be built around the recruit depot and could involve removing of more than 3,000 homes displacing more than 10,000 people, according to an authority study. Numerous businesses also would have to be relocated.

When it comes to Imperial County, that remote site makes little sense for North County residents, Vista Mayor Morris Vance said.

“I know that I’m not going to drive to Imperial County to get on an airplane and I don’t think any of my neighbors would,” said Vance, the newest member of the authority board.

After expressing his doubts about the Imperial site, a more than two-hour drive away for North County residents, Vance also said more must be done to educate voters before the November 2006 ballot issue.

If Imperial, Borrego Springs and all the military sites get dropped, Lindbergh and Campo would be the only sites left to pursue.

Despite the challenges involved in developing a full-length second runway at Lindbergh, authority board member Paul Peterson said there is no escaping the desire to keep the only commercial airport the region has known.

“There are people in this community and on this board that believe Lindbergh will be our long-term airport,” Peterson said.

A new airport or expansion of Lindbergh would be funded by federal grants and through airport revenues such as leases with airlines and vendors and what’s known as a passenger facility charge, a commonly charged fee tacked on to the price of each airline ticket.

For more information on the airport sites selection process, see the Web site and click on “Site Selection Program” at the bottom of the column on the left hand side.