County sold out to special interests at the airport

Well, the cat's out of the bag. On Feb. 15, 2008, Piñon Aero finally publicly admitted why they are building a massive jet port at Minden-Tahoe Airport: Our airport is going to be used for avoiding taxes on jets of corporations and individuals in Silicon Valley and other California locations. Douglas County building permits have been issued and construction of the first phase of what eventually will be 100 jet hangar "suites" is scheduled to start this month.

I do not know about you, but I am outraged. I feel that we, the residents of Douglas County have been lied to over the past several years and that our elected Board of county commissioners and especially the county staff and county committees such as the Airport Advisory Committee and the Airport Master Planning Working Group have sold us out to special interests.

Many times over the last several years various residents asked for more detailed information about plans for the airport and widely expressed concern about what looked like an ominous course for our airport toward serving first and foremost jets. Publicly, commissioners, the committee, and group members, the airport manager and county kmanager told us, "don't worry about lots of jets coming to Minden-Tahoe Airport, it won't happen, there is just no demand for them." Those of us who expressed concern were publicly ridiculed and called "Chicken Littles" or worse.

Key information was deliberately withheld from us. Barnard-Dunkelberg, the consultants charged with updating the airport master plan, admitted they were instructed by "the sponsor" (that is, Douglas County) to omit consideration of the Piñon Aero plans while updating the master plan. Without Piñon Aero, air traffic was projected to grow by a measly 2 percent per year over the next 20 years. Obviously, that projection was dishonest and is now absurd, but it worked for a time to pacify Douglas County residents and to buy time until Piñon Aero's preparations for building the jet center were cast in concrete.

Membership of committees established by Douglas County such as the committee and group continues to be dominated by airport business owners, small powered aircraft pilots and glider pilots. Demands to get fair representation of general county residents have been obstructed year after year. As of now, only one of 16 members is a real representative for the general public on the group. All members of the committee are pilots and judging from discussions, most are solidly aligned with growth at Minden-Tahoe Airport far beyond county needs.

Following years of harassment and repression of their interests by airport management and county policies, the sports plane and sail plane owners appear only too happy to go along with airport plans to relocate them to their own corner at the east side of the airport, get off the main runway, and out of the way of the jet traffic. On Feb. 7, the Board of County Commissioners voted to fund another $450,000 for new airport infrastructure to make this happen, concurrently handcuffing us for another 20 years to the FAA demands.

However, it appears these sports plane pilots -naively, I think - do not realize that they will be at Minden-Tahoe airport on borrowed time. Traffic of small planes and gliders cannot mix safely with jet traffic, especially at an airport as small as ours. With so many new jets coming here, it will only be a matter of time before access for anything but jets will be discouraged or even disallowed, if only for safety reasons. Just wait until the first glider is knocked out of the air by a jet landing here! Chicken Little? Jets are just too fast and go straight in and straight out.

It is time to let our elected officials know (again!) that we expect them to practice what they promised, to end the back room dealing that is now so pervasive, and to put a stop to practices such as when county staff recently formally eliminated our weight ordinance without authorization, bypassing needed approvals by the commissioners.

I feel that it is high time to let the commissioners know how we feel about their performance. In May 2007 they passed a unanimous resolution stating that they aligned county policy with the Douglas County residents' widely expressed wish that Minden-Tahoe Airport retain its rural character. They lied. All the while they and other county functions were and are pursuing a drastically different policy for the airport. Three of the five commissioners, Kite, Baushke, and McDermid have now solidly established their legacy in county politics as having done major and probably irreversible harm to our airport and our county.

They have clearly demonstrated by their public and non-public statements, actions, and decisions, as well as their omissions and failures to take corrective action that they do not stand with Douglas County residents but rather with special commercial interests. Let's not forget their names and what they did! Let's hold them accountable. Next November, let's elect three new commissioners with more integrity and honesty.

n Dieter Meun is 10-year resident a Minden resident.


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