Douglas County gears up for airport weight limit ballot issue
Douglas County officials are working on ballot language for the 2010 election to bring the Minden-Tahoe Airport into federal compliance or risk the loss of nearly $20 million in grant money doled out since 1984.
The airport received a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration on April 9 stating the county must change the airport facility directory, airport master record and airport layout plan to replace inaccurate information about weight limits.
The reports must reflect the accurate weight limits of 60,000 pounds single-wheel and 75,000 pounds dual wheel for airport runway 16-34.
If the county doesn’t comply, the airport faces discontinued federal funding for airport operations and maintenance; possibility of a federal court case with the FAA; a requirement to continue operating the airport at its current level for the next 20 years without government funding; increased fees and a potential requirement to repay all the federal grant money for continued discrimination against heavier aircraft.
Assistant County Manager Steve Mokrohisky and airport manager Keith Kallman are setting up community meetings to develop public input on the ballot language for action by voters.
“It’s clear from everyone we’ve talked to that there is no desire to have commercial aviation activities,” Mokrohisky said in an interview last week. “This issue is how do we develop appropriate restrictions to reflect the desires of the community in general.”
Mokrohisky brought the issue to county commissioners at the end of April.
In his report to the board, Mokrohisky said in the past 17 years, more than $13 million in grant funding from the FAA has been invested in airport improvements including rehabilitation of runways and taxiways.
The county puts up 5 percent of the cost, and the federal government contributes 95 percent.
“The grant money helps keep the airport up and running, that’s primarily what the grants are for,” Kallman said.
Weight limits were approved by Douglas County voters three times – in 1982, 1984 and 1992.
In 1992, voters approved an ordinance limiting landing weights at the airport to 30,000 pounds for single wheel planes and 50,000 for dual wheel planes.
Pavement capacity analyses completed in 2002, 2005 and 2008 concluded that the weight bearing capacity of the airport supported operations in the 60,000-to-70,000-pound weight classes, as well as occasional operations of corporate aircraft in the 100,000-pound weight class.
The county plans to conduct workshops through the summer for public comment on the draft language with a final public hearing in September to adopt the 2010 ballot language on operating weight limits at the airport.
Mokrohisky said if the county were held in noncompliance for inaccurate weight limits at the airport, it would stand to lose approximately $800,000 in airport improvement program grant funding for 2009 as well as federal stimulus and future grant funding.
The process to re-establish FAA compliance typically takes several years and would result in more lost funding for airport maintenance and improvements until compliance is reached, he said.
In rare instances the government could order the loans to be repaid. But, federal officials also could make an example of Minden-Tahoe Airport to bring other facilities into compliance by ordering repayment, Mokrohisky said.
“We have met with or are scheduled to meet with representatives from the Minden-Tahoe Airport Business Owners Association, Airport Advisory Committee, soaring representative on the AAC, neighborhood associations within the airport impact area including Saratoga Springs and Winhaven, and the Carson Valley Vanguard Coalition,” Mokrohisky said.
“The public input that we continue to receive from these groups will be incorporated into the draft ordinance language that will likely include various options,” he said.
The draft language will be provided at public meetings during July and August to seek input from residents about the options to solve the weight ordinance issue.
“We’ll take time to make sure people’s voices are heard,” Mokrohisky said. “We want to craft language everybody can get behind. We still have to maintain the airport. Everyone seems to agree noncompliance puts us in a bad position.”
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