Monterey Airport – Airport (safety) Project Halted

Enviromental Impact Report (EIR) for safety improvements inadequate, judge rules

A judge has again slammed the brakes on a long-planned safety project at the Monterey Peninsula Airport. 

In a victory for the Highway 68 Coalition, Judge Lydia Villarreal ruled the project’s environmental impact report failed to address its potential impact on traffic, growth and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Specifically, the judge faulted the report for failing to mention how the project might provide access to 150 acres on the airport’s northern boundary once designated for an office park. 

Almost entirely federally funded, the project was designed to meet new safety regulations. It would add crushable concrete pads at both ends of the runways to prevent aircraft from overshooting to the hillsides below. 

The plan also called for a new 50-foot paved road intersecting Monterey-Salinas Highway at the southeast corner of the airport adjacent to Tarpy’s Roadhouse restaurant. The environmental report stated the road would provide emergency and maintenance vehicles access to the north side of the property without crossing the runways. 

But Villarreal said the report omitted the northside development depicted in the airport’s master plan, an area at the other end of the proposed road. The omission, she said, precluded informed decision-making and public participation. 

The judge noted that Caltrans only lifted its initial denial of a permit for the road when the airport district estimated it would carry only 25 to 30 vehicles per day. In contrast, she said, a traffic study for Skypark Drive counted 500 vehicle trips per day. 

“The Airport District seeks to minimize the impacts to Highway 68 in order to have Caltrans grant the encroachment permit,” Villarreal wrote in her April 26 decision, delivered Monday to attorneys in the case. 

While the district acknowledges significant other development has taken place on airport property in the past five years, she said, “the northeast portion that is slated for development is not mentioned.” 

Derek Cole, attorney for the district, said 1992 and 2008 reports that mention the research and development park were outdated. The park is no longer planned, he said, because “there is no demand” for it. 

The judge said the district will also need to further study greenhouse gas emissions, since expansion and traffic issues were not adequately addressed.

Richard Rosenthal, attorney for the Highway 68 Coalition, said he will submit a proposed writ based on the ruling that would completely set aside the EIR and the project’s approval. 

Cole said he and airport officials had not had time to discuss the ruling’s impact. He said it may only require addenda to the EIR. 

“I would take issue with that,” said Rosenthal. 

Villarreal rejected the coalition’s objections to two large, terraced retaining walls at the airport’s southeast corner visible from Monterey-Salinas Highway and adjacent to Tarpy’s Roadhouse. The plan states the walls are necessary to accommodate the crash pad on that end of the runway. 

Villarreal said the draft EIR circulated before the report’s final approval had adequately described the walls and analyzed their impact on environmentally sensitive plants in the area. 

Mark Bautista, the airport’s deputy general manager for planning and development, said the road along Monterey-Salinas Highway will be 2,000 feet long and the road adjacent to Tarpy’s 650 feet. Both will be planted with endangered species temporarily removed during construction. 

Villarreal noted that in a Dec. 2, 2010, email to a consultant, Bautista expressed concerns about moving dirt cut away for the walls to the north side of the airport. 

“One of our environmentally sensitive plants thrives on freshly turned dirt,” he wrote in the email. “I would hate to see the spreading of the dirt inadvertently result in acres and acres of additional environmentally constrained land.”