SAN DIEGO Airport —- Go South, Go East or Go Nowhere

uesday, June 14, 2005
Airport authority narrowing site possibilities
By MARK WALKER
The San Diego (CA) North County Times

SAN DIEGO —- Go south, go east or go nowhere. Those appear to be the only remaining options when it comes to a new or expanded regional airport to serve the county for decades to come. To the south is Campo. To the east is Imperial County.

Going nowhere would require getting some land, such as the property now occupied by the more than 400-acre Marine Corps Recruit Depot, to expand the single-runway Lindbergh Field in downtown San Diego to a dual-runway airport.

On Monday, the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s four-member Strategic Planning Committee was unable to decide whether to drop two of four civilian locations that remain on its original list of 32 potential sites for a new airport.

The panel, made up of Lemon Grove Mayor Mary Sessom, developer Paul Nieto, embattled San Diego City Councilman Ralph Inzunza and land-use attorney Paul Peterson, split 2-2 on a motion that would have ended consideration of sites in Imperial County and Borrego Springs.

Instead, the committee is sending the question the nine-member authority board.

Borrego Springs is likely to be eliminated because it is more than 90 minutes away from a majority of county residents and there are no plans for highway or rail development to reach that remote desert community, panel members said.

Inzunza, who until Monday has been absent from meetings in the recent weeks as he stands trial on influence charges unrelated to his role on the airport authority, sought to drop the Borrego and Imperial sites.

Sessom, however, urged that Imperial County continue to be studied in concert with development of a high-speed railway that would transport airline passengers from San Diego County to Imperial County.

The Imperial County site is about 102 miles from the Miramar area in northeast San Diego, a location the authority is considering as the centerpoint of the county’s population. U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, whose congressional district includes Imperial County, is championing that site, saying an airport in Imperial County would open a new east-west corridor linking San Diego with Phoenix and Tucson.

The Campo site located near Interstate 8 is nearly 70 miles from Miramar.

Lindbergh field is forecast to be out of room to handle increased air cargo and passenger demand within about 15 years, and San Diego is on the Federal Aviation Administration’s list of U.S. cities in need of a new airport.

The airport authority, established by the state Legislature, is charged with coming up with an airport recommendation in time for a November 2006 countywide ballot issue. A new airport is projected to cost as much at $10 billion and would be paid for with federal grants and general airport revenues derived from leases, parking and other sources.

The authority also has five military sites on its list of possibilities, but none of those appear practical after the Pentagon last month said it did not want to close any local military facilities that have been eyed as possible airport site. Those include two sites on Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station and March Air Reserve Base in Southwest Riverside County.

“I think we all understand that none of the military sites are going to be available,” Sessom said.

Imperial County Supervisor Joe Maruca appeared before the panel to again encourage the authority to put a new airport in his county.

“Your future is to the east,” Maruca said. “In the long run, I don’t think you have anywhere else to go.”

The Strategic Planning Committee was supposed to review conceptual airport plans for Imperial County, Borrego Springs, Campo and Lindbergh but rescheduled that for next Monday.

Despite Sessom’s comments, the possibility of the Marine Corps Recruit Depot being shuttered resurfaced last week. Anthony Principi, the chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission that is considering Pentagon recommendations on base closures nationwide, said during a visit to San Diego that he isn’t convinced the depot shouldn’t be closed or transferred to Camp Pendleton.

If that happened, the airport authority could have room to develop a second runway. In order for the depot to appear on the closure commission’s recommendations that go to Congress and the president in September, seven of its nine commissioners must support adding it to the Pentagon’s list of closure recommendations that was issued in May.

Authority board member Robert Maxwell of Oceanside said he also wants to take a second look at an offshore airport and Brown Field in the Otay Mesa area. Both were on the authority’s original list of 32 new airport possibilities but were dropped.

AT A GLANCE

What: San Diego County Regional Airport Authority

At issue: Sites for a new regional airport or expansion of Lindbergh Field

Next move: Consideration of dropping Borrego Springs and Imperial County from its current list of four civilian site possibilities

More Information: www.san.org, click on airport site selection program on left site of cover page

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