Letter: Our airport can succeed
Letter to the editor:
There have been lively discussions about the Lake Tahoe Airport both currently and in the past. Some people have called for closure of the airport, citing the ongoing expense of its operations and suggesting that there are alternative uses for the property on which it is located. Perhaps a short response would be helpful at this time.
First, the airport does indeed require taxpayer dollars to operate. Actually, nearly every mode of transportation including state and federal highways, local streets, transit systems and airports are also subsidized in some way by local, state or federal tax dollars. The goal of minimizing these taxpayer costs and maximizing benefits to the traveling public is always before us.
More importantly, however, is a need to respond to the notion that we should simply shut down the airport and reuse the site for something like housing, ballfields or a shopping center. The reality is that a majority of the airport property is in a Stream Environment Zone (SEZ). If the airport closes down, there will not be any construction of housing, shopping or ballfields in the SEZ. Such uses are not allowed in a SEZ.
The real issue to be clarified, however, is that if the airport is shut down there simply won’t be an airport allowed to be built in the future. Period. Thus, although the airport is certainly a source of concern right now (there is currently no commercial air service and the facility itself is in need of repairs), we all need to be aware that when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Even though closing the airport may sound appealing, we need to think ahead to the future of the South Shore. If we were to close the airport, might we be looking back five or 10 years from now wishing we had one?
When the big fire comes, are we going to wish that we had a staging area for the attack planes? If U.S. Highway 50 closes again for some reason, will there be a need and desire for alternative access to the South Shore? If there really is a convention center built here, will we be wishing for a direct way to bring attendees to Tahoe as a way to balance out our shoulder season occupancies? Will we look back a few years from now in the midst of high demand for $250 to $300 per night hotel rooms at the Marriott and other hotels but be wishing that there was an airport to serve these more affluent potential visitors to our area? Will there be so much traffic between Sacramento and the Bay Area that air service is the only logical option for some of our visitors to get to the South Shore?
The point is simply this. Any decision to close the airport is basically irreversible. Shutting down the airport today without carefully looking toward the future needs of our community is shortsighted. Perhaps the time may come when, after carefully looking at the future of the South Shore, we as a community reach a conclusion that closing down is actually the right long-range decision. That time is not today.
In the meantime, the concept of expanding the role of the airport to become a transportation hub may be part of a successful interim solution. Based on a transportation hub concept, discussions are under way with ATM to determine the feasibility of relocating the public bus operations and maintenance facilities to airport property. In addition, a proposal for a new restaurant at the airport is being developed and we are in active discussions with the U.S. Forest Service regarding the use of some of the airport property for staging wildland firefighting crews and equipment.
Finally, it is time for a more regional approach to funding the airport. Certainly the benefits of the airport don’t stop at the South Lake Tahoe city limits. Businesses and residents in both El Dorado and Douglas counties also benefit from theairport. They should probably share in some of the costs. Perhaps now is even the time to pursue an area-wide Airport Authority as a way to equitably allocate the costs of running an airport that serves all of the South Shore.
To address these and other issues, the Airport Commission is developing a strategic plan to look at the future of the airport and its role in our ever-changing community.
It is time to make significant decisions with regard to upgrading our FBO (fixed based operation), looking at raising rents and fees, addressing seriously the deferred maintenance issues. We can find answers to our airport problems. Through our own initiatives we can have a successful airport!
South Lake Tahoe councilmember
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