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Planners raise questions about airport expansion

By STEVE HART
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

County planners on Thursday raised questions about expanding Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, an $84 million project that calls for longer runways, more flights and a new passenger terminal.

The county should consider a scaled-down version of the project, said Planning Commissioner Greg Carr.

“Let’s look at something that begins to address the impacts,” he said.

The Planning Commission will make a recommendation to Sonoma County supervisors, who have final say over the project. The commission didn’t take action Thursday, however, waiting for the county to respond to more than 100 comments from individuals, businesses and agencies.

Critics complain the 20-year expansion would bring larger aircraft, more noise and more traffic around the airport. Supporters argue the project would help Sonoma County’s economy and make air travel more convenient.

Much of the opposition comes from the town of Windsor, just north of the airport’s main runway. Windsor’s Town Council said this week it is against the project unless the county can resolve some of the environmental problems.

On Thursday, county planning commissioners said they’re aware of the concerns.

“It’s going to complicate some people’s lives, especially in Windsor,” said Commissioner Jason Liles.

The project’s environmental report doesn’t consider a more modest project with fewer flights, shorter runways and less noise, Carr said.

“Why are we not looking at a lower-growth scenario?” asked Carr. “What’s lacking is an alternative that is more responsive and not quite as ambitious.”

The planning commission is expected to take action on the project next month.

Airport manager Jon Stout noted the county’s general plan already allows up to 21 flights a day at the airport. Currently, Alaska Airlines operates five flights a day to Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas.

The county-owned airport is in talks with Alaska, Frontier and U.S. Air about more destinations, including San Diego, Denver, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Orange County.

But the airport’s existing runways are too short for most regional jets. The runways also need to be extended to meet new federal safety standards.

The expansion calls for 21 flights a day by 2030, with passengers growing from about 88,000 a year to nearly 300,000.

Work could start next year if Sonoma County and federal aviation authorities give the go-ahead.

An environmental report said the project would affect sensitive plants and wildlife, and recommends measures to reduce the impacts. It also identified noise, traffic, water and air quality impacts.





14 Responses to “Planners raise questions about airport expansion”

  1. Graeme Wellington says:

    We’ll spend a billion dollars on a train to nowhere that no one will use and subsidize it forever, but not invest in improving STS – an unqualified success?

    Sonoma County… It’s YOUR fault. You elected the pinheads making these judgments. Clean sweep at election time… AGAIN! Please Sonoma County… correcting these bad decisions is within your power. Don’t vote these decision makers back into office. They have proven themselves to be incompetent. Why do we keep putting the same people back in place to screw everything up? How many times must this lesson be learned.

    Hey politicians. I use STS for everything I possibly can. The better you make it, the more ways I can use it. I suspect that most Sonoma County travelers feel the same way. Here demand creates supply. With the SMART train you spend a billion creating a supply hoping there will be a demand.

    That airport is so beneficial to everyone. Is there anyone “leading” out there that can see the obvious?

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 7

  2. Reality Check says:

    @Steve Kausner,

    Oops!

    Well, my only defense is that your post reads close to what a county official might say.

    A good test of whether a public project should be built is if the citizenry believe it sufficiently worthwhile to support the higher taxes needed to pay for it.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  3. Steve Klausner says:

    @Reality Check
    I was being facetious. Like Warm Springs Dam, cost is not part of the debate because it is paid for by the Federal Government.

    Under Regan the funding formula for flood control was changed. Local governments had to pay 2/3 of the cost of a project and people got a little more serious about what they wanted to protect. If the same rule applied to airport expansion we’d be having a different discussion right now.

    The FAA’s rural airport subsidies are funded by a surtax on all airline tickets.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  4. Diane Martini says:

    Expand the airport, expand the local economy and expand the job base. End of story.

    Thumb up 18 Thumb down 7

  5. bear says:

    “Planning Commissioner” Greg Carr?

    This guy was a management insider for 30+ years. He’s one of the lucky few managers who are scamming the retirement system for every dollar they can get. Did he get an additional cash incentive to retire when he did? Check it out.

    Hi to all my friends and adversaries on these boards. This would be someone whose history should be examined in detail.

    BTW I suspect he wants to be the the nest Sonoma Valley supervisor. I’d think twice about that.

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  6. Rick Stevenson says:

    We should have a first-class airport because we deserve it; Sonoma County has a promising economic future.

    So should the entire Sonoma County suffer because a few people in Windsor don’t want us to? I hope our county supervisors have the vision & fortitude to give us the airport we need.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5

  7. bill says:

    The airport caters to private aircraft and the old planes museum primarily and has never been successful at commercial air traffic. Even Mike O’Brien’s restaurant failed from lack of sufficient patrons.

    Expansion is a money grabbing scheme by a few greedy developers. Windsor is right to object. Scuttle this plan.

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  8. J-Boy says:

    Still amazes me that they built the airport so close to a long established major metropolitan setting – Windsor. Were they that dumb in the 40s when they built the field and was the AAF so desperate for a training venue to have missed the city?

    OH, wait – from Windsor’s official history “The Town’s population and economic growth grew rapidly from the early 1980s, when housing development blossomed, bringing new families and businesses into this area, with incorporation occurring on July 1, 1992″

    By the 80s the plans for the airport were well known. The Village OF WINDSOR and its citizens should acknowledge that THEY screwed up by building in the flight path. Greed and stupidity put them in the position they are today.

    Build out for the benefit of the region. This shouldn’t be about a few hundred people who aren’t capable of seeing things beyond their own property lines or town lines or ignored the fact that an airport has been there for half a century by the time they incorporated…

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  9. Reality Check says:

    “It’s free money . . ”

    I didn’t think there was anyone left who believed there is any such thing as free money. I guess I’m wrong again.

    Actually, Republicans didn’t exactly “cave” on the anything, they just did what they do best, kick the problem down the calendar to January.

    As to the FAA being “fully funded.” By whom?

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  10. Steve Klausner says:

    It’s free money and will not result in higher ticket fares, how can you turn it down?

    The issue of funding for rural airports almost brought the government to a shut down last month, but in the end Congressional Republicans caved and the FAA was fully funded. And that’s why we get to expand our airport.

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  11. Reality Check says:

    It’s difficult to know whether expanding the airport is justified or not. With public funds footing the bill, is the expansion based on real demand or just someone’s wish to see the airport expand?

    Given the growth in flying, the growth in regional airports would seem to be a given. If so, then let’s do it right. The baby step approach just costs more money in the long run.

    One sure hopes this issue doesn’t descend into an enviro debate. But, if it must, the advantages of not forcing virtually everyone onto the freeway to get to SFO or OAK are obvious. They might even be enough to pay for the expansion, i.e., slightly higher fares. The user pays principle should determine whether this project merits approval.

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  12. Taking the Midnight Express says:

    Where is the outrage about SMART’s encroachment into wildlife areas sensitive plant areas in Sonoma and Marin counties? Where are the lawsuits and protesters and endless newspaper articles?

    Could it be that that the little train to nowhere is off limits because it is politically correct?

    But the big bad airport expansion which would bring more business and jobs to Sonoma County is stopped or scaled down which will be the same thing, because an “endangered” three toed red frog or a broad leaf weed is found near the airport? How stupid is that?

    The only thing endangering the airport are the airheads on the Windsor City Council. The same political group that build the Disneyland downtown that few visit with fewer and fewer businesses staying long enough to shake you hand.

    Expand the airport and bring on the jobs. Sonoma County needs a future, not an open space for a few to of the elite to dream in.

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  13. Money Grubber says:

    “”Critics complain the 20-year expansion would bring larger aircraft, more noise and more traffic around the airport.”"

    The “critics” have seen the movie “Build it & They Will Come” too many times. It just doesn’t work that way in life.

    Unless Sonoma County has something to offer, a bigger airport will sit mostly idle and wasting financial resources of the taxpayer.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 9

  14. Chris J Seamans says:

    The expansion of the airport would be great. The problem here is that special interest groups and people are are too set in the “old” ways don’t want Sonoma to expand. Just like the SMART rail, the expansion to bring in bigger sized planes would mean more businesses would more in likely come up here.

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