Commission takes on weight issue at airport | RecordCourier.com

Commission takes on weight issue at airport

by Susie Vasquez

Most residents opposed the temporary lifting of weight restrictions at Minden Tahoe Airport, the proposal debated at Thursday’s meeting of the Douglas County Commissioners.

Others felt the the issues have become more complex since those voter-mandated restrictions, which currently limit landing aircraft to 50,000 pounds, were first imposed in 1984.

Local pilot Jim Herd said removal of the weight ordinance could mean a radical change in the airport’s character in the long run.

“Today’s weight ordinance doesn’t fit today’s world,” he said. “The real issue isn’t the two or three big jets landing here today. The issue is the service level of aviation for Douglas County residents and business.”

The problem can’t be resolved without considering strategic environmental impact, the importation of environmental problems from aircraft landing at the airport but not serving the county, Herd said.

“We’ve all been asleep at the wheel. We need to wake up and work on a solution that respects the will of the voters,” he said.

The airport has funded the bulk of its maintenance and improvements, more than $17.5 million, through Federal Aviation Administration grants. The money is granted under the provision that no discrimination be exercised against aircraft of any size.

That mandate is countermanded by the 1984 voter-approved weight restrictions in Douglas County, which limited the weight of aircraft landing here to 30,000 pounds. In 1992, voters approved an increase of that weight limit to 50,000 pounds. Due to airport improvements that resulted in an increase in the runway’s strength, the airport can now support planes weighing up to 110,000 pounds and residents could be asked to increase that limit again in 2008.

The information that could be gathered through a temporary lifting of weight restrictions is critical to the development of the airport’s master plan, a process that is expected to continue for the next 12 to 18 months, according to Commission Chairman Jim Baushke.

An advocate for temporarily lifting the restrictions, pilot Mike Bradford said development of a commercial jet center is one of the fears for local residents, but the financial demand is not there.

“If the risk isn’t permitted, we could lose the funding,” he said. “This county couldn’t support the airport as recently as 15 years ago and it wouldn’t take long without the AIP (Federal) grants for it to deteriorate to the point where it could not support small aviation and soaring.

“The risks are not serious and if the weight ordinance isn’t changed, we’re on the road to destruction,” he said.

The Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition, a group of local residents interested in the environmental impact of Minden-Tahoe Airport, opposes the temporary restrictions, but but voters might be willing to increase current weight restrictions if there is a package in place to limit infrastructure, like a control tower and precision landing system, so large aircraft are not encouraged to land.

“We do not want surrounding counties to export their aviation environmental problems to Douglas County,” said Coalition representative Marion Barritt.

In other business:

• Commissioners delayed a discussion concerning a $24.7 million deal with Riverwood Redevelopment LLC, a commercial development owned by Carson City businessmen Michael Hohl and Dink Cryer, to 4 p.m. on Dec. 21 at the Douglas County Administration Building, 1616 Eighth St. in Minden.

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