Tuesday, March 8, 2005
New Airport Recommendation One Year Away
By MARK WALKER
The North County (CA) Times
SAN DIEGO —- With an election in 19 months and nine sites still on its list of possible airport locations, a panel deciding where to put a new regional airport agreed Monday to turn up the thrusters to finish its work. The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority said it must have the matter decided by March of 2006 —- not June of 2006, as its staff had suggested.
Deciding the matter in 12 months, panel members said, will leave enough time to educate voters before an airport proposal goes to a countywide election in November 2006.
The authority also agreed that it will meet no less than 24 hours after the Pentagon releases a list of proposed military base closures on May 16 — of this year. Any county base on that list will automatically become a contending site for a new airport under the authority’s criteria. Joint civilian and military use of an airport has not been ruled out.
“If there’s a base on that list, we need to have a really serious discussion on where we want to go,” said board member Paul Nieto. “We need to narrow down the sites in order to have a preference by the first quarter of 2006.”
Vista Mayor Morris Vance, who joined the nine-member airport authority board in January, said it’s critical that study of a possible military site take place “immediately” after the base closure list is published.
The search for a possible new airport site is closely intertwined with the U.S. Defense Department’s 2005 Base Realignment and Closure process. This will be the fifth round of base closures since 1988. The airport authority, citing its support of county bases, has refused to evaluate any military sites until the closure list is published.
Five base possibilities remain on the authority’s original 2003 list of 32 potential new airport sites. They are: March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, two sites on Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, Camp Pendleton and North Island Naval Air Station in Coronado.
Camp Pendleton is widely considered to be untouchable for closure.
Even though the Pentagon’s closure list could see additions or deletions between now and year’s end, panel members said they would assume the Defense Department does not believe any local base or bases on the list is vital to the nation’s needs.
Expanding Lindbergh Field, the nation’s busiest single-runway airport expected to reach its capacity soon, also is a possibility as are a yet-determined Imperial Valley desert site and sites in Campo and Borrego Springs. The authority’s strategic planning committee will get an updated evaluation of the non-military sites next week.
A committee helping the authority reach its ultimate recommendation to voters has already recommended Borrego Springs be dropped because it is so far from the San Diego metropolitan region. With that in mind, several panel members said they believed the same criteria could be applied to other sites, suggesting an Imperial Valley site is impractical.
The possibility of expanding Lindbergh Field, a move supported by many downtown San Diego interests, could be fueled if the Marine Corp Recruit Depot adjacent to the airport is recommended for closing. Shuttering it could create room for a second runway at Lindbergh.
Board member William Lynch raised the expansion question on Monday.
“Is there a better and more doable alternative to Lindbergh Field,” Lynch asked board members. “There may not be.”
That sentiment was echoed by Lou Conde, a former county supervisor and San Diego resident. He told the panel during the public comment portion of the meeting that North County residents would opt for John Wayne Airport in Orange County or Los Angeles International or Ontario airports rather than drive to a new airport site in the desert.
“None of the people I talk to want a new airport,” Conde told the board. “I just hope we don’t wind up spending millions of dollars only to have a (new) airport plan rejected by the public.”