Stockton Sups Vote Down Airport Airline Expansion

Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Stockton’s airport plan crashes to a halt in vote
By INGA MILLER
The Modesto (CA) Bee

STOCKTON ? An all-but-done plan for international flights between Stockton Metro and Mexico screeched to a halt Tuesday when three San Joaquin County supervisors voted against a required customs station. The 3-2 decision effectively ends plans by A?romexico for direct Stockton-based flights to and from Guadalajara and Morelia, Mexico. U.S. Customs and Border Protection required the airport first build an inspection station for baggage and passengers. Supervisor Larry Ruhstaller made a motion to reject a $4.6 million bid to build the inspection station and $317,000 for site preparation after saying he had trouble understanding where the money would come from.

“I can’t support this project because I don’t see the big picture in this,” he said. “And I can’t wrap my mind around the financing. And so I guess it’s up to me to vote against it.”

Supervisor Ken Vogel, who like Ruhstaller took office in January, joined longtime plan critic Leroy Ornellas in the vote. Both cited worries about spending money on the service without assurance it would come back to the county as revenue.

Under the funding plan, the Federal Aviation Administration would have paid 95 percent of the roughly $6 million total cost of designing and building the station. The county would have been responsible for the remaining $300,000.

The county would have had to pay to operate the customs station at the beginning. County consultant Campbell-Hill Aviation Group calculated an operating loss of $226,308 the first year. It projected that the customs station ultimately would have been a moneymaker, however, generating a $16,432 surplus for the first two years combined under a worst-case scenario.

Under a best-case scenario, the county would have made $1.7million cumulatively in the fourth year.

A?romexico had an agreement with the county to offer flights for at least the first year. Ruhstaller pointed out they couldn’t be forced to continue after that.

“This board made a big mistake ? as big as the noses on their faces, including mine, which is a big one,” Supervisor Steve Gutierrez said after voting for the station. “I’m sorry the board doesn’t have the confidence. We had a great opportunity.”

He and Board Chairman Victor Mow commended Airport Director Barry Rondinella for doggedly pursuing an uphill battle to win federal approval for international travel.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection rejected an initial bid in May based on the size of the station. Rondinella and other county officials traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with local representatives and customs officials and eventually won approval for the revised station before supervisors Tuesday.

But there are still future opportunities to expand airport business, such as cargo service, Gutierrez said. “It is disheartening. But it isn’t the end of the world. Our airport is a diamond.”

Editor’s Note: After all the hard work to get their community airline service it is indeed unfortunate that a few supervisors with a lack of vision ruined the day.

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