Comprehensive airport strategy needed
Ah, the airport. There is probably no more controversial issue at South Shore. We should recognize there will always be some people who will want to close the airport and other people who will always defend the airport. However, between these extremes the rational citizen must consider what is right for our community.
There is no doubt the airport has had its share of problems and miscues. There are probably plenty of places fingers can be pointed. For the South Shore to improve as a community we must move beyond the “could haves” and “should haves” and focus on solutions to gain trust and support for the progress of our community. That said, there is a reasonable and compelling case to be made addressing the broad South Shore community. The case to be made rests on three core issues and the need for a new comprehensive strategy.
Issue 1: Environment and transportation. The airport should be an integral part of a comprehensive transportation plan seeking to reduce our reliance on the automobile. Why would we want to do away with an asset to help us achieve this goal? Simply put, an airplane full of visitors is more desirable than each person in a car is. With regard to the noise issue, technology advances and the introduction of regional jets can easily make it under the decibel limits imposed at the airport. Please don’t for a minute think regional jets are some pie-in-the-sky solution. Many communities are successfully using regional jets. One only has to look as far as San Luis Obispo, which is served by a variety of regional jet carriers, to see the success. The demand for our beautiful area will grow with the regional and national population. We must satisfy this demand and provide improved transportation alternatives to the car. Consider our community in 10 or 50 years to really evaluate the benefits improved transportation must provide.
Issue 2: Economics. As it stands today, the existing level of general aviation activity already creates a net positive economic impact to the community in terms of direct and indirect revenues and expenditures made throughout the community. As such, it is important for the city to keep the facility up and maintain our investment in the same way we do with other infrastructure. Like other departments, such as Public Works and Recreation (which are also funded out of general fund monies), it is a goal of the airport to continually reduce the amount of general fund dollars. With a sound strategy, this can be achieved.
Issue 3: Safety. We cannot underestimate the importance of safety. While some in the community might argue this is not an issue because of the availability of the Barton helipad or the availability of the Minden or Reno airports (45-75 minutes away). This is simply not the case. Helicopters are a short-range solution – a care flight to Reno for instance. But what if you need an emergency air ambulance to Davis or Stanford? Who would want to risk the extra drive to get to Minden or Reno?
Second, in the case of a natural disaster, we may not have adequate highway access to the basin. The airport is invaluable as a drop-off and pick-up point for the evacuation of people and delivery of resources.
Third, the Black Hawk Squadron of the United States Civil Air Patrol is based at our airport. This organization supports regional search and rescue missions important to mountain safety in addition to other community services.
With these issues as a backdrop, the Airport Commission is developing a new strategy to revitalize and expand the current uses for the airport in an effort to improve our situation. The new strategy, called “Transportation Plus,” seeks not only to more fully utilize the airport for general and commercial aviation, but also to diversify the use of the facility. Our airport can be effectively used as a transportation hub serving not only airplanes, but also buses and automobiles as part of an integrated South Shore transportation system. Also, the airport should be a catalyst to beautify and clean up the State Route 89 corridor and finally, to implement watershed restoration programs to improve the area from Elks Club Drive to the city.
Our community economy is based on tourism. The national recreational trends toward leisure and the outdoors will continue to grow. We must continue to develop all of our assets to meet this demand and benefit the community environmentally, economically and for our security and safety. The airport is a valuable asset to the citizens of our community now and even more so in the future.
Lake Tahoe Airport commissioner
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