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Airport weight question may make ballot

by Susie Vasquez

To avoid a confrontation with the Federal Aviation Administration, which claims aircraft weight limitations at Minden-Tahoe airport are discriminatory, voters could be asked to increase runway weight limits in the upcoming November election.

Since 1984, Carson Valley’s airport has received about $17.5 million in grant funding from the Federal Aviation Administration for runway overlays that have increased its weight capacity.

“The airport must change the existing weight limitation to match the strength of the runway or lose any future grants from the FAA and maintain the airport for the next 20 years using county funds,” according to a statement prepared by Robert Morris, Douglas County’s chief deputy district attorney.

John Morgan, a member of the airport’s advisory committee, said commissioners may decide to delay putting the matter on the ballot until 2008.

Delaying the decision could give airport officials time to complete the airport’s master plan and county officials more time to gather public input. The airport’s master plan should be completed in less than two years, but the delay could hurt the soaring community, according to Morgan.

“A delay will mean development for soaring on the east side of the airport will also be delayed,” he said. “But the whole issue is about compromise.”

Increasing the weight limit for aircraft at Minden-Tahoe would alter a voter-approved mandate passed in 1984 limiting aircraft size to preserve the quality of life in Douglas County.

Those limits are set at 50,000 pounds for single-wheel and 70,000 pounds for dual-wheel aircraft, but the Federal Aviation Administration has rules against this type of discrimination if the runway can accept more weight.

Exceptions are made for the P3 Orion fire tanker, which weighs about 105,000 pounds. Used for fighting fires, the plane has landed at Minden-Tahoe about 217 times in the last five years, according to Airport Manager Jim Braswell.

Without federal aviation funding, airport officials would have to raise another $500,000 to $1.5 million annually from the county’s general fund to support the airport, the same pot that provides funding for the county’s parks and recreation and senior center, according to county commission Chairman James Baushke.

“Those services are needed more than an airport, but on other hand this airport generates $50 million in economic benefits to the community,” Baushke said. “The airport provides 500 jobs. It’s not a trivial asset.”

Major attractions like soaring bring in tourist dollars and support the airport through a demand for services, but to build a world-class soaring facility, the weight limit issue must be resolved, Baushke said.

“We need a good measure on the ballot everyone understands,” he said. “We want to keep the airport as an asset for our community.”

An April 2004 study indicates the airport can support 75,000-pound aircraft. Figures on a similar study done in September 2005 have not been released.

The pros and cons will be discussed at a special meeting of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and Planning Commission, 6 p.m. Thursday at the Douglas County Administration Building in Minden.

In other business:

• Commissioners will discuss Douglas County’s master plan review process, community workshops, use of planning consultants and identification of priority policy issues at the Minden meeting.

• Commissioners will be asked to supply the direction for Douglas County’s upcoming budget, with respect to revenue options, projections and budgetary goals at Thursday’s Stateline meeting.

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

BREAKOUT

Two county commission meetings are scheduled for Thursday, the first a regular meeting at Stateline and the second, a special joint meeting with the planning commission.

Douglas County Commissioners will conduct their regular meeting at 1:30 p.m. at the Douglas County Administration Building, 175 Highway 50 East in Stateline.

At 6 p.m., the joint meeting will be held at the Courtroom of the Douglas County Administration Building, 1616 Eighth St. in Minden.