Coalition seeks greater oversight over airport



So how do Valley residents feel about Piñon Aero's plan to turn Carson Valley's airport into a regional jetport? These plans were detailed on the front page of the Feb. 15 edition of The R-C (Hangar builder hopes to serve Silicon Valley). There are already significant noise problems with both jet and turbo prop corporate aircraft overflights of the Valley's major residential areas. The R-C's news story should serve as a major reality check and cause for concern for Valley residents who oppose the kind of massive increase in corporate aircraft flights in and out of our airport that Piñon Aero's development will likely generate.


Residents of Minden, Gardnerville, Gardnerville Ranchos and the Johnson Lane area in the general vicinity of the airport approach/departure path can likely say goodbye to the serenity of their neighborhoods and home values. The anticipated business aircraft invasion will also have a major adverse impact on the continued safety and enjoyment of the Minden-Tahoe Airport by its traditional general aviation users, including owners of smaller, slower, piston-driven aircraft and gliders.


In fact, the jet invasion will very likely put an end to the sustainability of the Valley's world-renowned soaring aviation history when air safety issues increase to push what remains of the Valley's soaring community out of the area permanently. Could this same fate be in store for nature's local soaring community, the eagles, hawks and other raptors? Public interest and enjoyment in viewing these and other birds drawn to the Valley has grown incredibly through the highly popular annual Eagles and Ag tour.


It is my understanding that most, if not all of the county commissioners had no prior knowledge of the scale and implication of Piñon Aero's development plan. This speaks volumes about the poor quality of communication between county staff and county commissioners. Effective communication is critical to the accountability of commissioners to ensure that airport development is compatible with traditional airport uses and the surrounding community. This accountability is required by the aircraft weight ordinance and the board of commissioner's airport policy resolution adopted in May of last year.


Readers should know that the county manager and airport manager were certainly aware of the hangar plans. Conceptual plans were reportedly approved as part of the county's lease agreement with Piñon Aero, without the benefit of public review, approximately seven years ago.


Now residents are stuck with a major development designed to house corporate aircraft that will frequently fly in and out of the airport to serve owners that aren't valley residents and don't have reason to care how their aircraft impact valley residents and existing airport users.


Of obvious concern then is the Jan. 31, 2008, public admission by the county's airport master plan consultants that "their sponsor," county staff, directed that they not include the Piñon Aero lease area and development plans in the scope of the current 2006-2026 draft airport master plan. Accordingly, the master plan documents provide no mention of the massive increase in corporate aircraft that will be based at the airport, instead forecasting that only two additional jets will be based at the airport over the next 18 years. The master plan is seriously flawed.


At the same meeting on Jan. 31, the airport manager Jim Braswell and airport master plan consultants attempted to dismiss the outcry of public concern voiced about Piñon Aero's hangar development plan. They stated the public's fear of a significant increase in executive aircraft operations of the airport were unfounded as the current market doesn't exist to support it. When a member of the Airport Master Plan Working Group subsequently asked Mr. Braswell for clarification on the specific market Piñon Aero hopes to serve, he didn't provide an answer and was then asked to find out. The R-C Piñon Aero article provides us with all the definitive answers to these questions and it would be difficult to accept that Mr. Braswell and Mr. Holler had not been aware of Piñon Aero's intent to submit specific construction plans for weeks, if not months.


County staff's failure to truthfully represent Piñon Aero's development plan within the master planning process is very disturbing and implies a hidden agenda inconsistent with the need to properly analyze adverse impacts of any proposed increase in corporate aircraft operation. The actions of county staff perhaps explain the reason why the membership of the airport advisory committee and the master plan working group are heavily dominated by pilots and business representatives supportive of enhanced development of the airport and increased corporate aircraft activity.


Regardless, Piñon Aero is legally entitled to now develop its plan for more than 100 hangars that will serve as home to a likely far greater number of jets and other corporate aircraft. While a previous board of county commissioners was responsible for approving this nightmare, the current board is stuck with the county's new public relations problem related to the stigma of having sold out the interest of Valley residents, voters and airport users in favor of wealthy, non-resident corporations. The primary responsibility for this debacle rests with the current county manager and airport manager. It will be their lasting legacy as both prepare to leave Douglas County employment.


A significant commitment by county commissioners and airport staff is now necessary to mitigate the multitude of adverse consequences of Piñon Aero's hangar project. This commitment is the critical first step toward restoring the public's trust and faith in county commissioners and airport management staff.


The Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition stands ready to assist the county's efforts. The coalition is a non-profit organization formed eight years ago, dedicated to the preservation of the Minden-Tahoe Airport's rural character and traditional aviation uses. The membership of the coalition strongly opposes turning the Minden-Tahoe Airport into a jet port.


Concerned residents are strongly encouraged to visit the coalition's Web site at ourairport.org to learn more about its purpose and how to become a member to increase the effectiveness of it's efforts. The Web site provides a history of the county's actions and plans that threaten traditional airport uses and the airport's compatibility with the interests of Valley residents. You will also learn of the strategies advocated to restore the credibility and accountability of county government necessary to protect the valley from becoming home to a regional jet port. Membership has doubled over the last year to approximately 200 and is growing rapidly. The coalition provides a convenient and effective means for the members of the county's silent majority and vocal minority alike to make your concerns heard.




n Dave McNeil is president of the Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition

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