Lawsuit Delays Monterey Airport Improvements

Lawsuit delays airport improvements  – Group says EIR deficient; judge issues injunction

A judge has grounded a long-planned safety project at the Monterey Peninsula Airport until at least April. 

Judge Lydia Villarreal granted a preliminary injunction requested by the Highway 68 Coalition, whose lawyer argued the project’s environmental impact report was deficient and possibly deceptive. 

The injunction puts the brakes on construction planned to meet new federal safety regulations. The project, almost entirely federally funded, would add crushable concrete pads at both ends of the runways to prevent aircraft from overshooting to the hillsides below. 

Chief among the coalition’s concerns are an 80-foot terraced retaining wall along Highway 68 and a two-lane, paved access road connecting the highway to the airport’s northern boundary. 

Unlike an existing 10-foot emergency roadway it would replace, the new 50-foot roadway would not access the runways, coalition attorney Richard H. Rosenthal argued. It does, however, lead directly to 150 acres designated in the airport’s master plan for a future business park. 

The cities of Monterey and Del Rey Oaks have said they will not allow business park traffic through their residential areas, Rosenthal said in
court documents. The only access to the property is from Highway 68. 

Rosenthal faulted the environmental impact report for failing to discuss the “growth-inducing impact” of the road, or even mention the master plan and its proposed office park. 

It was that failure that most concerned Villarreal on Thursday, said Rosenthal and Mark Bautista, the airport’s deputy general manager for
planning and development. 

Bautista said Monday the project’s proposed road would provide safer access to service and emergency vehicles that now have to cross runways to get to the northern boundary. It is a “road to nowhere” that will connect with nothing and have no growth impact, he said. 

Rosenthal argued the road is not part of the federal mandate and has no other purpose. It would not even allow emergency vehicles to reach an
aircraft that ends up in the east end crash pad, he said. 

Bautista said studies conducted since the 1992 master plan concluded the 150 acres in question are undevelopable because of environmentally sensitive species there. 

He said the judge’s ruling, an extension of a temporary restraining order in December, has already delayed construction and could threaten funding and much-needed jobs. The project was to have been completed in mid-2014. If it is not finished by the end of 2015, he said, the airport district could lose its funding. 

The ruling allows contractors to do only some preparation and install a water line pending an April 5 trial on the coalition’s lawsuit challenging
the environmental impact report. 

Rosenthal said the study is deficient in several areas, including the impact on greenhouse gas emissions of the removal of 7.6 acres of oak forest,
including 362 large trees, and 23 acres of vegetation. It also did not disclose the length of a retaining wall required for the access road between
the airport and the historic Tarpy’s Roadhouse. 

Bautista said Monday that wall is 2,000 feet long. 

Also of concern to the coalition is an 80-foot tall, terraced retaining wall along Highway 68 west of Tarpy’s. Bautista said the wall, required for
installation of the concrete pad at the airport’s southeast corner, runs 650 feet and will be carefully planted with endangered species temporarily
removed during construction. 

“Ultimately, in a couple years when everything grows in,” he said, “the hillside is going to look nicer than it looks now.”