Council to consider TOT to pay for control tower | TahoeDailyTribune.com
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Council to consider TOT to pay for control tower

Michael Schneider

At tonight’s City Council meeting, council members will consider contributing Transient Occupancy Tax funds toward the Lake Tahoe Airport’s air traffic control tower.

After falling short in a Federal Aviation Administration cost-benefit analysis, funding for the airport’s traffic control staff was to be cut effective March 1. This came after the tower had already been given a two-year reprieve.

After successful decades in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, the airport lost its last commercial air service provider about two years ago. The FAA had been waiting for a return of commercial service to boost the cost-benefit rating, but decided to close the tower when none was forthcoming.

Before official notice was given to the airport, word had circulated throughout the region’s political community. All four U.S. senators from California and Nevada as well as several federal representatives wrote to the FAA and Department of Transportation urging them to consider factors other than costs in their decision.

“The high elevation and dangerously changeable weather conditions at Lake Tahoe make the continued operation of an air traffic control tower an absolutely essential safety measure,” Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., told an FAA administrator at a meeting in early February.

The political coalition also told the FAA that a loss in tower functions would hurt the city’s efforts to attract a new airline for commercial service.

Also adding to the political pressure, council member Tom Davis, who was mayor at the time of President Clinton’s summer visit to the lake, went to Washington, D.C., last month, along with the city manager and airport commission chairman, to lobby for continued federal funding.

Although in a difficult position (40 other airports across the country had lost their towers along with Tahoe), four senators and three congressmen were able to convince the FAA and DOT to compromise.

While terems of the deal are still unclear, the administration will commit $114,000 to the tower over the next year for funding of a surface weather observer.

The weather observer, who will work eight hours a day (down from 12), can also perform air traffic control functions, but, any costs above $114,000 must be covered by the city or another local funding entity or fund.

Also, the March 1 deadline to stop funding has been extended to April 1 to allow the city time to enter into a local contract for air traffic control services.

The council will decide tonight whether to contribute city funds to make up part of the approximately $80,000 the tower funding will lose this year.

City Manager Kerry Miller said the council will consider beginning negotiations with tower operators.

According to FAA representatives Mitch Barker, Diane Mangels and Mike Fitzgerald, the manual weather observation position is not permanent.

In a phone interview, Barker said the weather observer would only be in place until an automated weather observation system was functional, possibly as early as June.

Mangels and Fitzgerald said at a public meeting at the airport called by the FAA Thursday that the automated system would be in place tentatively by June with September as a drop-dead date.

If true, this would contradict city officials’ beliefs that a person who observes weather and performs air traffic control eight hours per day would be in the tower, funded by the FAA, through February 1999.

In the past week, council members Judy Brown, Margo Osti and Tom Davis have expressed interest, if not favor, in finding funds to offset the FAA’s decreased funding for this year, whether it be from a grant, increased user fees or city funds other than the General Fund.

“I imagine we would try to find a way,” Brown said last week.

What: South Lake Tahoe City Council meeting

Where: Council Chambers, 1900 Lake Tahoe Boulevard

When: 6 p.m. (Redevelopment and JPA at 4 p.m.)

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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