Lawmakers make pitch to keep airport tower open |

Lawmakers make pitch to keep airport tower open

Jeff Munson

In a turn of events, federal legislators from California and Nevada have asked the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to intervene in an FAA decision regarding tower operations at Lake Tahoe Airport.

A letter sent Wednesday to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta asks that his office reconsider a proposal made by South Lake Tahoe to the FAA over reducing airport tower hours.

The letter was signed by Reps. John Doolittle, R-Roseville, Jim Gibbons, R-Reno, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California and Sen. John Ensign of Nevada.

Last month, the city agreed to pay the full, first month fee of $18,480 to keep services going past the April 1 deadline set by the FAA. The FAA doubled its rate to $214,000 of what the city is required to pay a contractor to monitor air traffic.

Facing its own budget problems, the city does not have the money to pay the full amount and is faced with closing the tower if it can’t come up with a solution.

Councilman Tom Davis went to the legislators asking for their support on the FAA issue, encouraging them to bring it to the attention of the transportation secretary. On four different occasions, Davis has sought federal help in keeping the airport open.

“The airport has been threatened to close before, but we’ve always been able to fund it,” Davis said. The legislators “have been very responsive so far and with this (letter) it shows they still are.”

City Manager Dave Jinkens was told of the letter and said the city is pleased that steps are being taken by lawmakers to work at a solution.

“We are appreciated of the action. Senator Feinstein’s office has been working on this and we have been communicating with her staff. I am encouraged by her, Senator Boxer, John Doolittle, Jim Gibbons and John Ensign of their support and help on this issue.”

The issue will return to the council April 20 with recommendations from the Lake Tahoe Airport Commission on ways to generate more revenue.

South Lake Tahoe exclusively funds airport maintenance and operations and is unable to pay the additional $100,000 annually required by the FAA under the revised benefit-to-cost ratio because of severe budget constraints created in part by the California’s continuing budget crisis.

The letter to Mineta from the legislators explains how the city is examining alternatives and wants to save tower operations if possible.

“Obviously, the best solution from the perspective of city officials is that existing FAA support for tower operations continue at the present level. We realize that such an approach, while desirable, may impact FAA budget and require an appropriation,” the letter stated.

As an alternative to continuing FAA funding at current levels for the tower, the city requested permission from FAA to reduce tower hours to conform revenues to expenditures.

Jinkens said the tower hour reduction could be about half the time the tower is operating now. FAA officials, however, informed the city last month that the hours could not be reduced.

“As federal representatives whose constituents are impacted by this FAA decision, we urge your support for allowing the city to reduce airport tower hours unless FAA funding for tower operations can remain at the same level throughout this year,” the letter concluded.

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