Minden-Tahoe Airport belongs to the taxpayers
May 20, 2007
As Douglas County residents and taxpayers, we own Minden-Tahoe airport, whether we are aviators or not. The facilities and services it offers are available for us to use like those of our schools, swim center, and library. You don’t have to be a school kid to see benefit from schools. But in the case of the airport it is not so simple. Airport operations are very visible to all of us, sometimes annoyingly so. There are regulations, rules, safety dos-and-don’ts, security, noise, and no shortage of outsiders telling us what to do with our airport in our beautiful, tranquil Valley.
More activities than you might think make a home at our airport. We have our much appreciated fire-bombers, personal power planes, gliders, balloons and local business corporate jets. We also have a variety of non-aviation activities that just serve to muddy the waters. The result is a “can of worms” with conflicting interests, priorities and technicalities. A school cannot be a kindergarten and a grad school simultaneously, and similarly an airport cannot serve or support every conceivable type of aviation, plus a smorgasbord of non-aviation. We must figure out which of these are most important to us and focus on their success.
Growth and development at and around our airport have seduced our county government toward creating a bigger airport that would seek to serve primarily larger planes from outside. These forces have hurt the traditional aviation uses along the way. For years now a sizeable majority of Carson Valley residents has been saying time and again “that is not what we want here.” The FAA has a lot of influence due to their funding dollars, but they always emphasize that it is our airport and we must define its future. So, let’s do that.
Recently, the county commissioners took one giant step forward towards clarity when they unanimously voted for a resolution that provides guidance for the future of the airport that is consistent with what most of the Carson Valley residents said they want. Specifically, the resolution says the airport must “serve the needs of Douglas County residents and businesses,” and “continue to provide for firefighting and other emergency aviation needs, and to promote various sport aviation activities, particularly soaring …..” This discriminates against no-one, but it does clarify the focus and specialization of our airport for the future, and begins to bring order out of chaos, misdirection, and uncertainty. Remember, there is a new airport master plan being put together that should be finished early next year and it will define the long term future, so timing here is crucial.
The resolution begins to finally address the weight ordinance issue. The will of the people to limit the size of planes here has been ignored since the vote in 1984. This is because the County could face financial loss by enforcing the weight limit if sued by folks who stand to gain from its elimination. This situation is unacceptable and must be resolved. But, most voters will only support removal of the weight limit if a very effective, credible, and enforceable replacement ordinance is put in its place that will protect and preserve the long-standing character of our valley and our airport.
The new resolution will only be meaningful when actions from county staff show that its guidance is actually being implemented. The new master plan must solidly support the resolution. Airport management must walk the talk. Capital improvement plans must be consistent with the resolution’s vision, and a genuine plan to revitalize soaring must be worked out. If such a consistent new direction is established, I will personally help the commissioners craft a new ordinance to replace the weight ordinance. It will need to provide better protection from environmental damage and yet avoid discrimination that might invite serious legal and financial problems. This is a tall order, but a lot of bright people are working on it and there seems to be a good deal of common ground. Once a good draft ordinance is accomplished I will personally urge you all to vote for the new ordinance when it goes to the ballot in November 2008.
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The right path to a workable solution is a minefield of easy solutions that won’t work, and complex solutions riddled with loopholes. Because of the special knowledge necessary, you will need to trust others for your information and guidance on this one. Just be very careful and consider the personal self-interest of anyone speaking or writing on the subject. Stay tuned as this unfolds and be very vocal with your opinions. You own the airport and you have the ultimate power if you choose to use it. For more information see http://www.ourairport.org.
Jim Herd is a Gardnerville resident.