St. Helena Star, CA
Thursday, March 25, 2004
Pacific Union College (PUC), looking for ways to cut expenses, has approached the county on taking over the Angwin airport.
The two signed a “memorandum of understanding” last week, opening the way for a one- the county will evaluate the feasibility of assuming year study in which stewardship of Parrett Field, as the airport is officially known.
PUC’s Vice President for Financial Administration, John Collins, said the move stemmed primarily from financial concerns as the college is seeking ways to cut expenses.
“Finances are probably the primary consideration,” he said. “Another is the question of whether the airport is a key part of the college’s mission.”
He said that just because the college offered aviation, that doesn’t necessitate owning and operating an entire airport.
Collins said the airport could be sold or leased for the county to assume control. “We’ll look at what’s feasible, and the needs of the college.”
He said the airport was of great value to not just the Angwin community, but to the county as a whole. “It’s an important airport because it’s above the fog line,” he said. “A lot of aircraft come in to land here when the Napa [County] Airport is fogged-in.”
Napa County Airport Director Wanda Kennedy said that the signed memorandum represented about six months of negotiations. The county will apply for federal grants doled out by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to finance the study.
“We’ve asked for $150,000,” she said.
The county is determined not to spend any of its own money in the study, and will first apply for the FAA grants and then begin gathering information.
The PUC has agreed to pay for 10 percent of the study, while federal grants are hoped to cover the remaining 90 percent of expenses. Kennedy said she had only approached the FAA informally about the availability of the grants.
“We’re kind of in information-gathering mode,” said Don Ridenhour, assistant director of the county’s public work department. “We don’t know if we even have an interest [acquiring the airport,] so that’s what the study is all about.”
Ridenhour said that while the prospect of taking stewardship of the airport is worth considering, the availability of grants is a key factor. Given the current budget, it’s not likely that the county would be willing to invest in the airport using cash from the general fund, he said.
The airport, built in the 1950s, is a public-use airport and not limited to use by the PUC. It is uncontrolled, meaning there is no control tower, but is equipped with lights for night landings.
Collins said that the memorandum will have two phases. The county will be able to collect data from the site and the airport’s records of the last five years. Then, a feasibility study will be conducted to see what resources would be required to maintain the airport.
Collins said he couldn’t say how much the college spent maintaining the airport since the airport budget included the entire aviation program, including trainers’ salaries and the purchase and maintenance of aircraft.
“We see this [proposal] as a way to enhance the airport,” Collins said. “[There are opportunities to] widen the runway, build a taxi-way — it’s hard to justify using tuition dollars of [our] students to do these things.”