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Airport ballot initiative will wait until 2008

by Susie Vasquez

A voter initiative to consider changing the weight limits at Minden-Tahoe Airport will be put on the 2008 ballot for voter approval, following completion of the airport’s master plan.

County commissioners approved the delay over a plan that would have put the weight question on the ballot this year. The decision was hailed by some Douglas County residents and chastised by others.



“You’re giving the community two years to work with county officials and hopefully, the majority of us can then agree,” said Douglas County pilot Marion Barrett. “It’s better than getting this issue shoved down our throats.”

Airport Advisory member Bill Schroeder criticized the move, saying businesses have followed the unprecedented growth over the last 10 years and are bringing their own corporate structures.



“We can’t go backwards,” he said.

Airport Advisory member resident Ed Court said this move would discourage businesses thinking about moving here.

“We’ll be paying a price economically,” he said “We’ll remain stagnant for two years and possibly beyond.”

The issue revolves around whether current restrictions discriminate against heavier aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration has funded $17.5 million airport improvements, some for airport overlays. The federal money came with the requirement that the airport not discriminate against users of any size.

However, voter-mandated weight restrictions were imposed in 1984 to limit the size of the airport. Voters approved a revision of the weight restriction in 1992, allowing single-wheel aircraft weighing 30,000 pounds and dual-wheel aircraft weighing 50,000 pounds.

The airport’s main runway recently underwent a maintenance overlay and according to a consultant study, can withstand regular use by planes weighing up to 75,000 pounds.

Heavier planes can use designated runways and taxiways, but may not be allowed if their weight exceeds the bearing capacity of the tarmac or tiedown areas.

That doesn’t mean Douglas County residents can expect the thunder of heavy commercial aircraft.

Other portions of the pavement will not accommodate larger planes and natural limits, like altitude and higher temperatures in summer, restrict larger planes wanting to land in Carson Valley.

Minden-Tahoe lacks the foam fighting equipment, tower and instrument landing system required for heavier commercial flying, to name a few, according to Bob Morris, chief deputy district attorney.

He said restrictions could be placed at the airport, based on the weakest features.

“The FAA’s position is, they won’t support an increase in size if those planes reduce safety,” he said. “I think that’s a viable option.”

Douglas County resident Jim Herd said focusing on the weight issue is an overly-simplistic approach to a complex issue. He supported county commissioners in their decision.

“The issues are frequency of air traffic, night flights, noise, pollution levels, general traffic and growth of ground facilities associated with these problems,” he said. “We need to find better ways to directly address the issues.”

He challenged county staff to do more homework on options well beyond the weight issue.

“We need a new direction,” he said. “This is our airport, not the FAA’s. We need to take the lead.”

The latest round of concerns came after Hutt Aviation, a local airport-based business, filed a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration in September 2004, charging the airport’s weight ordinance is antiquated and unreasonable.

The Hutt complaint was subsequently dismissed without prejudice by the FAA, which means they can reinstate the complaint at any time, according to Morris.

FAA officials will not consider Hutt’s initial complaint unless a “substantial and reasonable effort” has not been made to resolve the issue informally. Hutt tried to produce that information by filing an amended complaint in January 2005 without success, Morris said.

That doesn’t mean the pressure is off.

In August 2004, the FAA asked county officials to modify the airport’s layout plan, which contains the weight limitation.

A second request from the FAA came in June 2005 and in February 2005, the National Business Aviation Association wrote a letter to Airport Manager Jim Braswell, stating that the Minden-Tahoe Airport’s weight restriction may be user discrimination.

Baushke added a cautionary note when he said the delay could mean there’s a slight chance Douglas County could be sued over the weight limits. If that happens, the FAA could withdraw future funding for airport improvements.

“But the consensus is, the board is willing to take the risk,” he said. “We’ll be working with all of you, from homeowner’s associations to airport groups, to make this happen.”

n Susie Vasquez can be reached at svasquez@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 211.