Rochelle Nason, League to Save Lake Tahoe

Does South Lake Tahoe really need an airport of its very own? If not,

is there a use for the airport land that would make more sense? The

League to Save Lake Tahoe says NO to question #1, and YES to question

#2. Let’s consider why.

South Lake Tahoe doesn’t really need an airport just to serve general

aviation (private planes). There are several small airports within an

hour’s drive. Consolidation of South Lake Tahoe’s general aviation

operations with those of nearby airports would cause little

inconvenience to local pilots and visitors.

Is there a safety benefit to having a local airport? Not if we have a

heli-pad for evacuation of people needing medical help, and have use of

both the helipad and nearby GA airports as bases for airborne

firefighting operations. If anything, the presence of the airport is a

safety hazard rather than a benefit – consider the numbers of people who

have been killed over the years at our airport, and the fire risk posed

by crashes.

That leaves us with the great dream of the South Lake Tahoe Airport:

that someday serious commercial air service will return, bringing an

economic bonanza in the form of hundreds of thousands of affluent

visitors who would otherwise spend their vacations in the Rocky

Mountains. This dream is based on a the use of the airport in the late

1970’s, a time when the local economy was in a mode of frantic,

unsustainable growth, and when airline regulation favored flying

relatively empty planes into small airports. Both of these

circumstances are long since past and show no signs of returning.

For so many years, the dream of commercial air service has soaked up tax

dollars into the airport subsidy and fueled numerous ill-fated ventures

– remember Sierra Express, the Reno Air subsidy, Tahoe Air, Allegiant?

Today the buzzword of airport supporters is “regional jets” – a new type

of aircraft is going to make local service economical for the airlines.

Well maybe, maybe not. I certainly wouldn’t invest any of my

hard-earned dollars in it without some very convincing evidence – and I

wish the City of South Lake would wait to invest our tax dollars until

that same evidence is forthcoming.

What would be gained if we consolidated our airport operations with

nearby airports? We would have our own peace and quiet assured. In the

long run we would benefit our economy – it won’t too many years before

peace and quiet are more treasured visitor amenities than are casinos.

We would diminish the risk to the property values of the many homes that

could be affected by aircraft noise in the future. We would regain a

magnificent meadow with its scenic, water quality, and wildlife habitat


And, assuming that the meadows under the runways were returned to their

natural state, we would still have a wonderful opportunity to find a use

for the “core” airport area. How about a wildlife museum? A recreation

area? A multimodal transit facility? The possibilities are endless.

It’s time to put some old dreams aside, and dream up some new ones. We

need an updated vision for our community, a positive vision of what it

could become in the future. We have a unique opportunity to help make

South Lake Tahoe to become a truly special place – or we can lapse into

being a mediocre place that just happens to blight a magnificent lake.

Let’s aim high by looking for a better use for the South Lake Tahoe

airport – or at least by looking for a better use for our tax dollars.

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