Thursday, September 1, 2005
Airport authority eyes joint use at Miramar, North Island
By MARK WALKER
The San Diego (CA) North County Times
SAN DIEGO —- With the nation’s base realignment and closure process now nearing completion, air fields at North Island and Miramar will soon be in the sights of the agency looking for a new regional airport site. Rather than move to take over either complex, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority will instead examine the possibility of sharing the bases with civilian passenger and cargo aircraft.
Until now, the authority has refrained from publicly discussing or launching any full-scale studies of military bases as possible new airport sites.
Authority board Chairman Joe Craver said Wednesday that the study of North Island Naval Air Station and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station will commence in about two months when the base closure and realignment process is finished.
Neither base was recommended for any change in status by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, the panel that studied Pentagon recommendations for base closures nationwide.
But Miramar and North Island have long been on the authority’s list of five military sites that it had vowed to consider for a regional airport.
“We’ll start looking at those for joint-use options in November,” Craver said after a meeting of an advisory group assisting the airport authority in its site-selection work. “We are very comfortable that there will be enough time to study those and come up with a recommendation by April.”
The authority has set April as its deadline for a recommendation on a new airport site or expansion of Lindbergh Field, the nation’s busiest single-runway airport. The venerable 614-acre airfield, which opened more than 75 years ago, is forecast to be out of room to handle rising passenger and cargo demands by about 2015.
Military officials have consistently opposed sharing their runways. A spokesman at Miramar said that base would have no comment until the base closure list sent to the president last week is approved by Congress. A call to the public affairs office at North Island was not immediately returned.
Shared use is not a novel concept. More than a dozen airports around the country feature joint use. The airport authority, however, hasn’t ventured into that territory until now because of pressure from local lawmakers who didn’t want the airport search to affect the fate of any county bases.
The authority has two sites at Miramar on its list —- the existing airfield and the development of a airport on the base east of Interstate 15. Camp Pendleton and March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County also are on its list.
Civilian possibilities include the Lindbergh expansion or a new airport at Campo in the southeastern area of San Diego County or one in Imperial County.
Miramar continues to get attention in many quarters because of its central location, freeway access and arguments that the Marine helicopters stationed there can be transferred to Camp Pendleton.
Wednesday’s meeting focused on a recent Internet-based airport location discussion that drew more than 700 participants.
Heidi Gantwerk of ViewPoint Learning oversaw that exercise and described Miramar as the “elephant in the room” throughout the talks in June.
“They talked a lot about how to get Miramar and how to get serious about getting that site,” Gantwerk told about 50 people attending Wednesday’s meeting at a Harbor Island hotel.
In order to win voter support for the airport recommendation that will appear on the November 2006 ballot, the online participants agreed that if Miramar is not a viable option, the reasons why will need to be made abundantly clear, she said.
Gantwerk also said the group agreed that any site that doesn’t have a transit component such as high-speed rail tied to it would be opposed at the ballot box, as would remote sites such as Imperial that would require a long drive.
Expansion of Lindbergh is hampered by the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. A plan to enlarge Lindbergh would place the depot between two runways. It also would displace thousands of nearby residents and hundreds of businesses.
Several residents of the neighborhoods that would be affected by a Lindbergh expansion spoke vehemently against that option Wednesday. One, Jarvis Ross, said development of a new airport on the eastern section of Miramar should be a “no-brainer.”