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.