Timetable set for airport ballot draft

Douglas County commissioners approved a timetable July 2 to draft language for a 2010 ballot question leaving it up to voters whether to bring the Minden-Tahoe Airport into compliance with weight regulations or risk losing millions of dollars in federal funding.

Assistant County Manager Steve Mokrohisky reviewed the history of the airplane weight limits enacted by voters in 1982, 1984 and 1992.

"The weight limit was chosen as a means to restrict noise, but no engineering studies were done to verify the airport's weight-bearing capacity," Mokrohisky said.

In 1992, voters approved an ordinance limiting landing weights at the airport to 30,000 pounds for single-wheel planes and 50,000 for dual-wheel planes.

Pavement capacity analyses completed in 2002, 2005 and 2008 concluded that the weight bearing capacity of the airport supported operations in the 60,000-to-70,000-pound weight classes, as well as occasional operations of corporate aircraft in the 100,000-pound weight class.

The airport received a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration on April 9 stating the county must change the airport facility directory, airport master record and airport layout plan to replace inaccurate information about weight limits.

The reports must reflect the accurate weight limits of 60,000 pounds single-wheel and 75,000 pounds dual wheel for airport runway 16-34.

If the county doesn't comply, the airport faces discontinued federal funding for airport operations and maintenance; possibility of a federal court case with the FAA; a requirement to continue operating the airport at its current level for the next 20 years without government funding; increased fees and a potential requirement to repay all the federal grant money for continued discrimination against heavier aircraft.

At stake is nearly $20 million in grant money awarded to the airport since 1984.

Mokrohisky and airport manager Keith Kallman have been holding community meetings with airport businesses, neighbors and other interested parties to come up with language for the 2010 ballot to address the issue.

"There's been really good debate," Mokrohisky said. "From neighbors we're hearing concerns about noise; for others, weight may not be the restriction they're most concerned about.

"The general consensus has been that the risk of noncompliance is not what the community wants to face. We have to strike a balance between what the federal government wants to keep us in compliance and what the public wants as a community," he said.

Community workshops will be scheduled through October to collect comments for the ballot language.

Public hearings are tentatively set for the first commission meetings in November and December to consider and adopt the ballot language.

Voters will decide the issue in November 2010.

Gardnerville resident Jim Herd said he was disappointed with Thursday's presentation.

"It sounds like a sales job more than a fair and balanced report," he said.

"We need grant money if we're going to continue to grow the airport. It's a far smaller financial task to maintain the airport," he said.

Mokrohisky said the information he presented was factual, and that he was meeting with everyone interested "so we can get all sides of this issue."

Commissioner Doug Johnson, a veteran of the airport weight debate, said it was the first time the Federal Aviation Administration had sent a written communication.

"The FAA threw us a bone," he said. "The FAA gave us an opportunity we can't afford to pass up this time around."

"We have to have community support. The possibilities range from a wide-open airport where anybody could land, or being in the process of beginning to shut the airport down," he said.


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