Santa Maria Airport – Finally – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report In

Monday, July 30, 2007
Airport report released
By Malia Spencer
The Santa Maria (CA) Times

Years of discussion and negotiation between the Santa Maria Public Airport and U.S. Fish and Wildlife have finally culminated in a 37-page report outlining exactly how proposed development south of the airfield and local endangered species will coexist. The document, which was received by airport officials earlier this month, is required in order to allow development of the Airport Business Park and Golf Course on land that is also home to federally protected species such as the California tiger salamander. Airport officials have been planning the development for almost two decades, but when endangered species were found on the property, additional environmental study was required.

“This document says that we will allow you to disturb and take critters, if you do these other things, i.e., give up some farm land, create additional ponds or not disturb other ponds,” said airport General Manager Gary Rice.

Through negotiations with Fish and Wildlife staff, the airport district was able to develop a draft specific plan and environmental document for the project while the biological opinion was crafted.

The draft specific plan and environmental document mirror the mitigation measures in the opinion, Rice said.

District officials began speaking with federal officials to create the document in 2001. Officials at the airport said they are surprised it took this long to come to a resolution, which was not attainable until the airport brought in special legal counsel and the Federal Aviation Administration.

If the project is given the go-ahead by city of Santa Maria planners, and before dirt is moved, the airport district will enter into a conservation easement with Fish and Wildlife, as outlined in the biological opinion, Rice said.

Taking into account the California tiger salamander and other species’ habitat, the project has been scaled back to 740 acres from 1,095 acres.

The plan includes 16.3 acres of commercial/professional office buildings, 132 acres of light manufacturing, 262.3 acres of recreational open space, and 105 acres of conservation open space.

The project is still in draft form while the specific plan and environmental document go through the city’s planning process.

The Santa Maria Planning Commission is scheduled to hear the project at its Sept. 19 meeting.

Previously, the commission delayed its decision to allow airport officials time to respond to a series of questions regarding the project phasing, the opinion of the Federal Aviation Administration toward residential development, and the process to remove the existing mobile home park from airport property.

The 94-unit Airport Mobile Home Park is located on about 10 acres on South Blosser Road. According to the business park plan, the site will be used for light industrial building, and as many as 320 people are expected to be displaced.

Residents of the park have joined together to form an association as a way to gain political voice, and over the last year they have been attending airport board meetings and various Planning Commission sessions.

Most recently, residents representatives met with airport, city and county officials to talk about relocation issues. City staff say they provided the residents with information regarding empty land, in both the county and city, and contact information.

Airport Director Ted Eckert said he hopes the new dialogue is fruitful.

“In the meantime we are exploring a blue ribbon committee to work together with other local government agencies and the people within the mobile home park to meet their needs consistent with realistic expectations,” he said.

As for the biological opinion, Eckert, who has the longest tenure on the board, said, “It’s difficult to put into words, we worked so long and hard,” on the project.

City officials have long touted the proposed airport business park as one of the logical places for the community to find the space needed to try to bring higher-paying jobs to the area.

According to the environmental impact report, the project will provide 3 million square feet of industrial development and could provide as many as 6,400 jobs when fully built.

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