By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
After years of planning and study, a proposed $84 million expansion of Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport is set for a vote Tuesday by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
The project calls for longer runways, more commercial flights and a new passenger terminal, along with other upgrades. It was approved by the county Planning Commission last month in a 4-1 vote.
The project would extend the airport’s main runway by 885 feet to 6,000 feet, which would meet current safety requirements and accommodate larger aircraft.
It also would enable up to 21 commercial flights a day by 2030, a limit already authorized by the county’s general plan but not possible with current infrastructure, airport officials say.
Most of the improvements would be financed with federal aviation grants.
Though few have questioned the runway safety upgrades, which are pegged at about $42 million, or half the total expansion cost, critics have taken aim at the project’s environmental impacts, including the effect on noise, air and water quality from adding more flights and larger aircraft.
“I think something like this is going to change the area,” said John Maier, a Santa Rosa resident concerned about the project.
Supporters have downplayed the impacts and said the airport expansion is needed to boost Sonoma County’s economy.
Although the airport’s traffic reached an all-time high in 2011 of 207,188 passengers, about 70 percent of the county’s 1.6 million annual passengers travel to San Francisco to fly, said Sonoma County Airport Manager Jon Stout. “We can make it a lot more convenient,” he said.
Currently, Alaska Airlines operates five flights a day from Santa Rosa to Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland and Las Vegas.
The county is in talks with Alaska and Frontier Airlines about additional flights.
Each one would add about $23 million in direct and indirect economic activity and about 40 jobs, said Stout, who said the calculations were from basic economic models.
Timing of the other half of the expansion, including a new passenger terminal, air cargo facility and control tower, depends on attracting more airlines, officials have noted.
“It’s not going to be the San Jose of the north,” Stout said. “We don’t have the population base for that.”
A preliminary vote by county supervisors on the project’s environmental study, changes to the general plan and the airport’s master plan could be followed by a final vote Jan. 24.
If approved and given a go-ahead by federal officials, work on the runway extension could begin in July, with an estimated completion in fall of 2013.