Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Another step forward for airport Master Plan
by Nathan Rushton
The Eureka (CA) Reporter
The plan to update and improve the Arcata-Eureka Airport for the next 20 years flew past another hurdle Tuesday, when the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved to receive and file the draft plan for Alternative No. 5, which clears the way for staff to proceed with the benefit-cost analysis and the eventual environmental review process. There is no cost to the county’s general fund for the recommended actions, which is being paid for through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Plan grants and the airport’s passenger facility charges, according to county documents.
The board received a report on the Arcata-Eureka Airport Master Plan update from Michael Shutt, vice president of aviation development for Santa Rosa-based Mead and Hunt Inc., which is the lead consultant company on the plan.
Under Alternative No. 5, one of the airport’s runways would be extended 502 feet to the southeast.
Shutt said one of the biggest issues that came up in the Master Plan update process was how to deal with the runway safety area that is required by the FAA.
According to FAA regulations, commercial airports are required to have a standard runway safety area where possible, which at most commercial airports, is 500 feet wide and extends 1000 feet beyond each end of the runway to minimize dangers in the event that an aircraft overruns, undershoots, or veers off the side of the runway.
“It has become one of their highest-priority projects in the nation,” Shutt said. “They are putting a lot of pressure on smaller airports that have been able to escape by this requirement for the last number of years and Arcata is in that position.”
Since many airports were built before the 1000-foot extension was adopted roughly 20 years ago, the area beyond the end of the runway is where many airports cannot find room for the full runway safety area due to obstacles, highways, populated areas and severe drop-off of terrain, according to FAA information.
To satisfy that requirement, at each end of the runway an Engineered Material Arresting System would be installed as a substitute, which is a “crunchy concrete material” that stops planes safely and has been a “godsend for communities” with short runways, Shutt said.
Shutt said the 20-year forecast for the airport would likely see a doubling in passengers who visit the airport each year – from 98,000 to 167,000 – as well as a doubling in cargo, which would increase from 720 tons to 1,500 tons annually.
In addition, Shutt said the improvements would likely last the airport more than the 20 years in the future and would allow passenger flights to new markets in Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
In other business, the board unanimously approved a motion to allocate $100,000 to the county’s fire districts that would receive a chunk of Proposition 172 funds, which are repaid by the state to reimburse public safety agencies for diverted property tax revenues.
“This is a step in the right direction,” said Humboldt County Fire Chiefs’ Association President Richard Leonardo.
Leonardo said what he and the other chiefs have been asking for was just a percentage of the growth of the Proposition 172 funds from the state with the understanding that, in years where there was no growth, they might not receive any money.
With respect to the percentages of the funds to be distributed, the small fire departments would benefit the most from money, Leonardo said.
Several fire chiefs representing Arcata, Redway and Humboldt fire districts spoke to the board to make their case of why the fire districts needed the extra funds, which included increases in fuel prices, training expenses, insurance and costs of replacing equipment.
On the county side, representatives from the probation department and public defender office appeared before the board to address their concerns that the county’s dire budget situation in recent years was hindering the department’s ability to fill vacant positions.
First District Supervisor Jimmy Smith, who brought the motion before the board, thanked the staff for the work preparing the report and said one of the county’s primary roles is to provide law enforcement, public defender and probation services to the community.
However, Smith said there also has to be a good response from firemen who are answering emergency calls every day that range from fires to injuries and heart attacks.
“I think today may be the day to take a step away from status quo and just demonstrate the eligibility of these firemen for some of this funding,” Smith said.
After acknowledging that the motion wouldn’t make everyone happy, Smith went against staff advice and made the recommendation that a one-time appropriation of $100,000 be paid to the fire districts for the current fiscal year.
Future appropriation for the fire districts would have to be revisited by the board for approval, Smith said.
In addition, Smith’s motion directed the board to take a position in opposition to the November special election’s Proposition 76, which county officials are predicting will cap funding from the state that would have the unintended consequence of further hampering the county from paying for its mandated programs.
As part of the motion, the county administrative officer will return to the board in February in conjunction with the midyear budget report with recommendations regarding deferred maintenance and capital improvement needs.
During the meeting, the board heard a staff report from Assistant County Administrative Officer Stephanie Larsen, who was asked to update the board on the county’s budget uncertainties following the adoption of the state’s budget.
Although the county received good news of an unexpected repayment from the state of a $2.6 million loan ahead of schedule, as well as an increase in property tax revenues in recent years as a result of the real estate market boom, Larsen said there were still widespread vacancies in many county law enforcement departments and more than 20 years of deferred maintenance of county equipment, facilities and infrastructure.
Larsen warned that with natural gas prices expected to increase more than 70 percent this winter, which would likely burn the county for an additional $210,000 in costs, along with the flattening property values and the governor’s Proposition 76, staff were not able to recommend that the county share any of the Proposition 172 money with the fire districts.