Saturday, February 26, 2005
Airport may get OK for limited flights $6 million grant to help S. Paula erosion projects
By Tamara Koehler
The Ventura County (CA) Star
The Santa Paula Airport might reopen early next week with limited flights and a dramatically shortened runway, managers said Friday after a state inspection of the damage. Caltrans inspector Gary Cathey surveyed the tarmac, cracked and eroded by this week’s storms. The rain-swollen Santa Clara River cut deeply into the bank along the airport’s 2,650-foot runway. The battering water eroded about 155 feet of the bank, causing portions of the runway to topple into the river. That followed the loss of 40 feet from the airfield in January storms, officials said.
To address the erosion problem, a $6 million grant was approved by the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service on Friday. The federal money will be split between the airport and a bank erosion project on Santa Paula Creek, said Jeff Pratt, director of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District.
Airport officials were buoyed by the developments.
“This is all very good news,” said Rowena Mason, president of the Santa Paula Airport Association. “Businesses (at the airport) keep asking us whether they need to move. The flight school has temporarily left for Oxnard Airport. This has been devastating.”
The airport has been losing at least $16,000 a day in business, Mason said. Airport management also hired private contractors to dump rocks, dirt and cement along the bank. Those emergency repairs have cost roughly $250,000.
Mason expects Caltrans, which has authority over runways, to approve limited use as well as operating guidelines early Monday.
Less than half previous length
Planes will be allowed to land and take off only from the portion of runway deemed “safe” — about 1,220 feet in this case, Mason said. That’s less than half the airport’s usual 2,650 feet of runway. Flights will be restricted to local pilots and special circumstances.
Besides tearing large chunks out of the bank, the river undermined the ground beneath the runway, said Kurt Haukohl, aviation safety officer with Caltrans.
“That’s not a safe situation for landing,” Haukohl said. “I would anticipate a lot more of the airport is going to fall as the water recedes. They’re going to find themselves 30 feet above the river’s height.”
The federal money should help pay to repair much of that damage, said Bill Ward, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service office in Fresno. Rock jetties will be built to deflect the water from the banks, and “as much of the eroded bank will be restored as possible,” Ward said.
The $6 million also will cover digging a channel in Santa Paula Creek to pull the water away from the banks.
No county funds required
Both projects will be fully funded by the federal grant, Pratt said — good news for the cash-strapped county.
Airport officials will have to come up with other funding to build a new runway and repair damage. Santa Paula City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city will help the airport look for “creative ways to get funding.”
“Santa Paula Airport is too important an asset to Santa Paula to ignore,” Bobkiewicz said.
Pat Quinn, an officer of the airport’s association, said business has been cut in half and a maintenance shop is looking at relocating.
The flight school, run by CP Aviation, accounted for a quarter of the airfield’s flights. Even with the airport partially reopened, the flight school can’t return until the runway is lengthened.
Ray Maxon, owner of Ray’s Aviation, lost four maintenance jobs this week during the airfield shutdown. The aviation mechanic worried he would not be able to pay his five employees.
With the restricted reopening, business will be operating at about 75 percent, he said.
“We can do that for a while, but just a while,” Maxon said.