Airport growthsparks debate

The latest news about expansion of hangars at Minden-Tahoe Airport has racheted up the debate over what sort of traffic the residents of Carson Valley are willing to put up with from their airport and what they can do about it.

It has been nearly a quarter of a century since residents gathered signatures, got an initiative on the ballot and passed it in order to prevent the airport from becoming a commercial hub. It has been 16 years since voters modified the weight limit at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration or face having to pay back $2 million in federal grants.

In the intervening years, that $2 million has grown to $17 million and the population of Douglas County has doubled, with many of those new residents moving into expensive homes not very far from the airport.

When all neighbors had to worry about was the occasional glider tow plane or fire bomber, they took the airport in stride. But the construction of a 100-hangar complex with the express purpose to attract corporate aircraft to Minden to avoid California taxes has sparked a firestorm. Adding fuel to that fire is the news that the Federal Aviation Administration after more than 15 years ordered the county to remove a note advising pilots of the weight limit, saying the federal government did not recognize the county ordinance.

Residents had been counting on the weight limit to protect them from an influx of aircraft. Airport businesses on the other hand are apparently counting on lifting the weight limit.

The argument for smaller aircraft falls apart as long as fire tankers are using Minden-Tahoe Airport as a base. The weight limit appears to be discriminatory if it applies to private aircraft but not those in service to the government.

On the other hand, that the federal government handed Douglas County $18 million knowing full well there was a weight ordinance in place doesn't help the business owners' position.

There are a few voices advocating closing the airport. If that effort is successful, look for the issue to land in federal court, which is where it should have gone a quarter century ago.


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