San Diego County Regional Airport

Friday, July 8, 2005
Officials put focus on 3 sites for airport
5 military locations tabled until base review is done
By Jeff Ristine
The San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune

Regional airport officials will focus on three sites in the next round of work on the search for a suitable airport of the future. A 6-0 vote of the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board yesterday advanced sites in Boulevard and the Imperial County desert, and a proposed second runway for Lindbergh Field, for further study leading to a planned November 2006 ballot measure.

A proposed site in Ocotillo Wells, near Borrego Springs, was relegated to the back burner without being dropped from the list altogether. Five military sites also are being held back from any study until the outcome of a Department of Defense base-closure review.

In a related development, the board approved a $4.2 million extension of its contract with Ricondo & Associates, the consulting team on the site-selection project, to carry it through the end of this year. The firm’s first contract, for $4.7 million, was awarded in December 2003.

Yesterday’s vote on sites marks the end of months of discussion on the importance of access to any new airport, and more recent analysis of the possible plan for a facility at each site.

Board members, well accustomed to criticism they are chasing far-fetched plans, say the process is showing just how difficult their chore has become.

“We could pretty well eliminate everything,” board Chairman Joseph Craver said. “We need to find a solution, and there is no perfect solution.”

Consider what the agency now finds itself left with:

  • The Boulevard site, referred to in Airport Authority documents as the Campo area, would need to operate in an area with what residents say are minimal resources, with groundwater protected by a federal mandate.
  • The southwestern Imperial County site, while championed by some local leaders there, lies 102 miles from the geographic population center of San Diego County. A magnetic levitation train has been proposed to provide access, but the airport agency’s consulting team has said most passengers still would face excessive travel time.
  • A second runway at Lindbergh Field, without the adjacent Marine Corps Recruit Depot property, could require a huge swath of land in the heavily developed Midway District – and still wouldn’t meet projected long-term passenger and cargo demand.

    One Lindbergh concept shows the airfield and its support facilities taking up land occupied by the ipayOne Center at the Sports Arena, the Midway Drive post office and much of the Rosecrans Street corridor.

    There has been no visible support for the Ocotillo Wells site, referred to as the Borrego area in agency documents. But board members couldn’t find any objective criteria to screen it out that wouldn’t also eliminate the Imperial site.

    Angela Shafer-Payne, vice president of strategic planning for the authority, said the next phase of analysis will include “the big infrastructure issues” that some critics have suggested ultimately will prove to be fatal flaws.

    Among other subjects, consultants will try to determine how the airspace would work for each airport concept, along with potential noise and air-quality impacts.

    They also will look into the issue of “social impacts,” which could address the way an airport would change the character of places such as Boulevard and the desert, and the financial feasibility of each proposal.

    Some of the sites may be difficult to defend, board member William Lynch said, but only a technical analysis will answer critics down the line who may argue that the authority failed to consider all options.

    The agency originally intended to consider all nine civilian and military options together, gradually paring its list as more technical data and other information were gathered. Under pressure from elected officials, it agreed to suspend discussion of the Marines’ Miramar Air Station, North Island Naval Air Station and three other installations to avoid interfering with attempts to protect the region’s military infrastructure.

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