Sunday, April 24, 2005
Staff: Nix remote sites from new airport list
By MARK WALKER
The San Diego (CA) North County Times
SAN DIEGO —- And soon there will be two. That will be the remaining number of civilian airport possibilities if the agency charged with finding a new airfield for the county accepts a recommendation to scratch two remote locations from its list of possible airport locations. The staff of the San Diego County Airport Authority is recommending dropping Borrego Springs and an unspecified site in Imperial County from its list of nine new airport sites because each is more than a 75-minute drive for more than half of the county’s residents.
The recommendation will be heard by the airport authority’s Strategic Planning Committee on Monday. If it concurs, it goes to the full board on May 2.
Eliminating Borrego Springs and Imperial County would leave the authority with only two non-military site possibilities, one in the Campo area in the southeastern portion of the county, and expansion of Lindbergh Field, authority spokeswoman Diana Lucero said Friday. Military sites won’t be considered for months.
Authority board members have long contended that expansion of Lindbergh, the downtown San Diego airfield that has served as the county’s airport for decades, does not solve the region’s long-term airport needs.
Expanding Lindbergh would require purchasing a minimum of 3,220 existing homes, moving nearly 11,000 people and buying at least 1,800 acres of land. It also would require the closure of the Marine Corps Recruit Deport adjoining the airport, which is a topic off the table until late this year.
The authority was established by the state Legislature to assume management of Lindbergh from the Port of San Diego and find a new airport site to recommend to county voters for a November 2006 ballot issue.
It has said its ideal airport would encompass at least 3,000 acres, have two full-length runways and be able to operate around the clock. Lindbergh Field has banned overnight airport activity since 1976 because of the 614-acre airfield’s proximity to housing.
The five military sites —- Camp Pendleton, two possibilities at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, North Island Naval Air Station and March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County —- can’t even be discussed until after an upcoming round of military base closures that starts in May is completed at year’s end.
That decision was made earlier this month after state and federal lawmakers pressured the authority to refrain from any consideration of the military sites until the base closure process is under way. The self-imposed muzzle resulting from political pressure also means the authority won’t even discuss the possible assumption of the recruit depot for new recruits even if the facility appears on the Pentagon’s list of proposed base closures when that document is released in mid-May.
Between now and the end of the base closure process, the authority’s staff will study transportation and roadway issues surrounding an expansion of Lindbergh and consider several scenarios for expanding the existing terminals to add more gates, said Angela Shafer-Payne, the authority’s chief of strategic planning.
In Campo, the authority will work on power and water availability issues as well as a identifying a specific site there for a possible new airport, Shafer-Payne said.
Eliminating Borrego Springs and Imperial County is just fine with people such as state Assemblyman George Plescia, who has long said that Lindbergh is the only logical choice. The San Diego Republican reiterated that stance on Friday.
“We have an airport,” Plescia said. “It’s Lindbergh.”
Plescia said he remains unconvinced that the county needs a new airfield despite the authority’s contention that Lindbergh’s ability to handle increases in passenger flight and air cargo demand will be maxed out by the year 2022. The lawmaker said he does not agree with the authority’s projections for increased demand and that the San Diego airfield should not be considered a major hub airport such as Los Angeles International Airport.
John Chalker, a member of the airport site selection’s citizen advisory panel, said Friday he too would welcome the elimination of Borrego Springs and Imperial County sites. But he also wants a new airport other than Lindbergh to meet future airport demand and allow development of the waterfront area property occupied by Lindbergh.
“We’ve always said the airport should be within San Diego County,” said Chalker, who also heads up the Alliance in Support of Airport Progress in the 21st Century, a group formed in 2002 advocate for a new, dual-runway airport.
“When you look at the costs of providing some form of a transportation system to move people out to Imperial County or Borrego, it far exceeds the cost of building an airport,” he said.
The authority has said a new airport would cost somewhere between $1 billion and $10 billion. It would be paid for through Federal Aviation Administration grants, bonds issued and repaid by the airport authority and revenues the airport generates through landing fees, lease agreement with airlines and vendors and an existing airport facility charge paid by every passenger.