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Airport goes for vision

by Christy Chalmers

A clearer vision for Minden-Tahoe Airport is needed before airplane size and noise are considered, a temporary committee has decided.

The nine-member committee, appointed in January to review the county’s airplane weight limit, decided instead Monday to recommend a “visioning” process for the airport, similar to the one now being done for downtown Minden.

“I think the (weight limit) as it stands should stay,” said committee member Stuart Pardee. “The public does not want to change. I see that and I think it’s futile to go on.”

The county now has a voter-imposed weight limit of 50,000 pounds for multi-wheeled planes, with lower limits for other types of aircraft. The intent of the rule was to avoid noise, pollution and other impacts associated with larger planes.

But Minden-Tahoe’s standing airport advisory board suggested a review because larger planes aren’t necessarily the noisiest, and aviation promoters think the ordinance may be costing Minden-Tahoe business from larger planes that don’t bring the undesired impacts.

Talk of a change brought out dozens of residents who live around the airport, as well as those who rallied support for the original voter-imposed ordinance. They spent more than two hours Monday reminding the committee about the concerns behind the ordinance.

Virginia Henningsen, one of those who led the ordinance effort, said she thinks a Minden-style vision, in which long-term goals and ways to implement them will be determined, is a good idea.

“It seems like we’re all spinning our wheels. We don’t know where we’re going,” she said.

Committee member Debra Lang said she already has a vision for Minden-Tahoe.

“The vision is we want a general-aviation airport,” she said.

“You can do that. Just leave the 50,000 pounds alone,” responded Henningsen.

The ad-hoc committee’s action did not resolve the underlying noise and size questions. Previously, committee chairman Fred Jones issued a memo calling the weight ordinance a “paper tiger” and stating that Federal Aviation Administration rules could override the voter-imposed ordinance because the FAA has given millions of dollars to Minden-Tahoe, and by law the airport would have to allow any aircraft it could physically accommodate.

But a letter dated January 1997 from an FAA official to Robert Morris, a deputy district attorney, says the weight restriction is acceptable, and that heavier aircraft can be limited on “fair and reasonable terms” and without “unjust discrimination.”

The letter, distributed Monday, goes on to say that fees can be imposed on heavier aircraft to pay for the additional wear they inflict on airport runways.

Minden-Tahoe does impose fees on heavier planes that occasionally use the facility. Those planes include firefighting bombers that are based at the airport in the summer months. The bombers pay $90 per landing.