Revision of aircraft weight rule prompts debate
September 9, 2010
More than 100 people watched a debate over revising the Minden-Tahoe Airport weight ordinance at the CVIC Hall on Wednesday night. The attendance exceeded that of a series of community workshops last year.
Debaters focused on what the airport could become depending on the outcome of a vote on the ordinance on the Nov. 2 general election ballot.
The weight ordinance was born in 1982, when voters approved a ballot initiative to keep aircraft using the airport small.
Douglas County voters revised it in 1984, and in 1992. Each revision increased the weight of aircraft that were allowed to use the airport until it reached 30,000 pounds for single-wheel aircraft and 50,000 pounds for dual-wheel aircraft. Despite the weight ordinance, larger aircraft, including firefighting tankers and the occasional military transport, used the airport. At some point during the late 1990s a notice was placed in a federal aircraft directory warning pilots of the weight limit.
For the first two decades of the ordinance’s existence, no one knew how much weight the airport runway could sustain.
That information came to light in 2002, when the Nevada Department of Transportation conducted an inventory of the state’s airports and their capacity. That and a subsequent review revealed a larger runway weight capacity at Minden-Tahoe Airport. There have been arguments that those studies are flawed.
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Meanwhile, in the summer of 2004, the first of several threatening letters arrived from the Federal Aviation Administration, ordering the county to remove the note in the federal directory or face elimination of federal funds. That prompted the county effort to revise the ordinance.
“This debate is simple,” Vanguard Coalition President Steve Swabacker said Wednesday. “Is the proposed ordinance better than the weight-based ordinance? This dog don’t hunt. If an aircraft is over weight, there’s no penalty in the current ordinance. There’s no control over improvements at the airport.”
Opponent Dave Nelson said there were loopholes in the ordinance, “big enough to drive a truck, or a 747, through.”
He said gliders will be pushed out of the airport by increased jet traffic. Increased jet traffic will also mean more noise.
Nelson said that the amount of money covered under federal guarantees isn’t as great as proponents say it is, pointing to language in the grant assurance that say the county must maintain improvements paid for with federal money up to their lifetime, which could be up to 20 years.
Proponent John Garvin said that much of the opposition to the ordinance comes from the county approved master plan, which was submitted to the FAA.
“The new ordinance does more than the current ordinance,” he said. “Any argument you make against approving the new ordinance can be made against the old ordinance.”
Opponent John Hannan said he agrees that the old ordinance doesn’t work, but that approving the new ordinance without a weight limit would make it more difficult to fix in the future.
Nelson said that the FAA has never sued an airport to get its money back.
Garvin said one of the reasons he’s voting for the airport ordinance is that it requires voter approval before public money can be spent on major improvements.
Opponents agreed that refusing federal money won’t lower anyone’s taxes, but Jack Van Dien said each time the airport accepts a grant, that means signing another 20-year assurance the airport will be maintained and the county won’t discriminate against larger planes.
Proponent Mike Bradford said the airport was key to building the county’s tourist base.
“Tourism is clean industry,” he said. “People come here, leave their money and go home.”
The debate was sponsored by the Business Council of Douglas County, the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and The Record-Courier.