Arcata-Eureka Airport to Move?

Saturday, May 19, 2007
Arcata-Eureka Airport to move?
By Nathan Rushton
The Eureka (CA) Reporter

The idea might never fly, but several Humboldt County planning commissioners say they would like to see the Arcata-Eureka Airport moved from its foggy ocean overlook. That recommendation was among several for the long-term goals and policies the Planning Commission plowed through Thursday night as part of the county’s General Plan Update hearings.

The commission is on schedule to provide by late October a forum for the public to comment on all of the General Plan’s 21 chapters, or elements, that compose the 20-year planning and policy guidance document that is expected to be finalized by next year.

Commissioners wrapped up Thursday receiving public comments on two mandatory General Plan elements – Noise and Safety – that were continued from a previous hearing on April 17.

The Planning Commission also opened the discussion on the Economic Development Element, which sparked a conversation about the possibility of moving the Arcata-Eureka Airport.

Citing sketchy service and an inability to adequately handle cargo, Commissioner Bruce Emad called for adding the relocation of the Arcata-Eureka Airport to the element as a planning goal to boost the area’s economic opportunities.

The recommendation drew cheers and applause from many in the packed Board of Supervisors’ Chamber.

Emad called the county’s passenger terminal in McKinleyville “a joke of an airport” that was built during World War II to train pilots to land in foggy conditions.

“In this day and age, we need to be able to get our products and people in and out with reliability,” Emad said. “That airport will never do that.”

The county is currently working on a 20-year and approximately $28 million plan to upgrade the airport’s terminal and runways to meet increased safety requirements by the Federal Aviation Administration following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Commissioners T. Scott Kelly and Sef Marguia added their support for the relocation idea, although Emad’s direction to staff reopened the debate as to how commissioners’ comments should be integrated into the plan.

Marguia told the commission he wanted clarification on whether Emad’s, or other commissioners’, suggestions would automatically be folded into the document or if commissioners were expected to simply listen to the public and weigh in later.

Commissioners expressed frustration during earlier hearings that their comments on specific parts of the element weren’t being added into the revisions of the draft documents.

Commission Chairperson Tom Herman said he thought it was better to “vent as we go” during the hearings to avoid having to wait until the very end of the process when all of the elements would be considered together.

Herman said the county’s Community Development Services Department staff members were trying to “capture the essence” of commissioner comments and were placing them in the appropriate policy alternatives, which will be voted on by the commission and ultimately the Board of Supervisors at a future date.

“I think it is perfectly legitimate for this commission, if we’re not satisfied with that, to give them some other direction,” Herman said.

The next Planning Commission hearing on the General Plan Update is scheduled for June 21 at 6 p.m., when county staff members are expected to discuss the Conservation and Open Space, Water Resources, Biological Resources and Cultural and Scenic Resources elements.

Humboldt County Airport Manager Jacquelyn Hulsey was not able to be reached in time for this article.

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