THE AIRPORT: TIME FOR A NEW VISION
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
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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