Coalition offers plan for airport weight ordinance resolution |

Coalition offers plan for airport weight ordinance resolution

by Jim Herd

Commissioners Doug Johnson and Jim Baushke are proposing a prior permission required test that would raise the aircraft weight limit at the airport from the current 50,000 pounds to 110,000 pounds for a one-year test period during 2007. Under this program overweight aircraft that wish to use our airport may easily do so by simply obtaining prior permission.

The problem that drives this idea is quite valid. It is the threat faced by the county that the FAA will withdraw the historical source of funding for some major airport improvement projects, and certain bizjet folks are threatening to sue the county for discriminating against heavier jets. The goal of the test is to gather data on how many overweight aircraft would show up in 2007 – to see if the number is significant. This data would then fold into the new Airport Master Plan work. This sounds reasonable, but it is a slippery slide in the direction of opening the flood gates. It may solve the county’s risks, but it would do so without due concern for the long-term future of the airport and it would violate the will of the people, which surely overrides other issues here. It’s like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The current weight ordinance was established in 1984 and led by Howard Godecke and others. Howard was a far-sighted, long-term resident and lover of this Valley who recently left this earth. (See Linda Hiller’s article in The Record-Courier dated Dec. 20.) Howard’s most fundamental objective was to create a deterrent to any change in the fundamental character of Douglas County airport. Weight was chosen as a measuring tool because it is simple and easily defined. Most citizens still seem to resonate with Howard’s vision of preserving a functional airport with a small community character, even though his weight ordinance has never been enforced by county staff.

Today, there are many other aspects of aviation, beyond weight, that threaten to change our airport’s character. These include night flights, sheer volume of flights, weight, noise and ground activities. Many of you will be all too familiar with regional jet centers elsewhere in the country, where the environmental damage has been profound.

The Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition has offered our commissioners a compromise, alternative solution to the test. This solution guards against broader threats that don’t correlate well with weight. The proposal is a somewhat complex package of restrictions, wrapped together as a new airport use ordinance, to be submitted for a ballot vote in 2008. These restrictions would provide wide-ranging new deterrents to discourage large aviation operators from relocating to our valley. Note that this would not discourage bona fide aviation operations in direct service to Douglas County businesses and residents,such as the Starbuck’s heavy jet that shows up about once a quarter. You see, outside aviators looking to relocate to our airport will have a long list of criteria for airport selection. If many of those criteria are denied by county statute then they will likely look elsewhere. Could this be an elegant compromise solution, although not a perfect guarantee of protection?

To those who believe there will never be a major influx of outside aviators, I say this. Ample evidence exists to the contrary, and even if it is only a moderate probability over the next 20 years, why not protect ourselves? Land leases have been in place at the airport since 2001 with documented plans to build huge jet center facilities. The lessees continue to pay their rent for this barren but coveted ground, in the belief that it is just a matter of time until they will come. Also, many of our good friends in California are having a heck of a time with their airports. Truckee and South Lake Tahoe are two examples where the airports have tremendous environmental problems, as well as poor weather and dangerous terrain. Minden-Tahoe airport is not far away and has almost none of those problems. Even today, a good number of aviators choose to operate at Minden even though Truckee or South Lake Tahoe would be more convenient. Our airport is already being called a reliever airport Ð relief for others becomes a burden for us. Howard Godecke’s vision was right Ð the threat is real.

Almost all the testimony I have heard in favor of the test is from folks with business interests at stake. And their testimony has little rationale beyond eliminating the county’s risk, and thereby also promoting growth. Almost every resident without a direct financial stake in this has testified against the test, and many have presented cogent rationale.

Here’s just the simplest and most powerful argument against a test. The data just doesn’t matter. Last year there were roughly 25 such (illegal) overweight operations. If that number went up to 200 or down to one makes no difference to Howard’s original premise. We still need a deterrent for our long-term protection.

The Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition is the only group so far to have offered a conceptual solution that will reduce county risk, welcome all bona fide Douglas County aviators, and yet deter a potential influx of outside aviation pollution. The concept needs more work, and you can help. You can contact the coalition at 782-7776. Alternatively, contact your county commissioners with your views directly, through the county offices.

n Jim Herd is a member of the Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition and a Gardnerville resident.