Tuesday, March 1, 2005
Airport can’t operate with short runway
Caltrans inspector turns down plan to reopen Santa Paula airfield
By Tamara Koehler
The Ventura County (CA) Star
Santa Paula Airport must remain closed to the public until its storm-damaged runway is lengthened, according to the initial results of a state inspection issued Monday. City officials, however, balked at that ruling and have contacted state legislators to put pressure on Caltrans to review its decision.
“We were surprised,” said Santa Paula City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz.
“We thought everyone had come up with a solution last week.”
Airport officials were notified Monday that their plans to operate with a runway less than half its original size had been turned down, said Pat Quinn, an officer of the Santa Paula Airport Association.
The runway originally measured 2,650 feet, but management had hoped to reopen with one measuring 1,220 feet, restricted to local fliers.
That failed to meet safety requirements set by Caltrans, said state inspector Gary Cathey, who toured the privately owned airfield Friday and met with officials.
“I know the airport was hoping for something more lax in order to open, but we’re not going to allow them to open until they have a safer runway,” Cathey said.
Quinn said airport officials were trying to figure out alternatives in light of Caltrans’ decision.
Although some businesses such as a restaurant remain open, the airport is losing an estimated $16,000 a day in revenue.
There is no runway in the state measuring less than 1,700 feet, Cathey said.
Last week, the rain-swollen Santa Clara River cut deeply into the bank along the airport’s lone runway, which is perched beside the waterway.
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.
Damage from the first storm was estimated at $5 million. No total was available for the latest storm, which took out almost four times as much airfield.
The U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service has approved a $6 million grant that will be split between erosion repairs at the airport and Santa Paula Creek.
The Airport Association must come up with other funds to fix the tarmac.