DHL proposal for added overseas flights won't fly, some commissioners say

Nov. 13--Riverside officials are vowing to oppose express-delivery giant DHL's effort to add an international jumbo jet to its fleet at March Air Reserve Base as long as neighborhoods continue to be awakened by the company's early-morning departures.

"Expansion without taking care of the current (noise) impacts is not acceptable," said Mayor Ron Loveridge, one of two Riverside city officials on the commission that regulates civilian use of the joint-use military airport near Moreno Valley.

DHL spokesman Richard Gibbs said the new flight from Asia would expand Riverside's growing role in international trade and add jobs to the company's West Coast hub, which opened in 2005.

Since then, DHL has created 478 jobs of which 422 are part-time package handlers earning an average of $10.74 an hour. Its presence also has stimulated growth among vendors based in Riverside and Moreno Valley.

The company has taken recent steps to reduce noise from its 3 a.m. takeoffs by replacing two aging DC-9 airplanes with one quieter jet. But three DC-9s still remain in its local fleet, creating frequent early-morning noise disturbances over Riverside.

March Air Field, which was downsized to a reserve base in 1996, is the first air base in the nation to share its airport with a civilian commercial carrier. The agreement has been heralded as a model for base reuse.

"March Air Reserve Base tenants such as the U.S. Air Force are dependent on private sector partners to support continued operations at the facility," Gibbs said.

Riverside Councilman Frank Schiavone, also a member of the March Joint Powers Commission, said there have been regional economic benefits from the DHL hub.

"The question is whether it's worth the negative impacts on the neighborhoods," Schiavone said, adding that he was not interested in adding new DHL flights until the noise problems are solved.

Riverside County Supervisor Bob Buster, the only member on the March commission in 2004 to oppose the zoning change that paved the way for the DHL hub, said the negative impacts outweigh any economic benefit.

In neighborhoods underneath the 75-decibel noise level of the nighttime flight path of DHL, Buster said the assessed valuation of properties is $6.7 billion compared with the $28 million assessed valuation of the DHL project by the assessor.

"If you start getting a blighted area because of the constant noise, there is a heavy public cost to that. The size is so huge in dollar terms and in land area, we can't mitigate it by buying out homes or putting in sound installation," Buster said.

He wants the company to switch its hours of operation to daytime.

DHL is operating an average of seven early-morning flights a day and the proposed 747 jumbo jet would bump up the number to eight.

The new jet, if approved, would arrive between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. and depart at 2:30 a.m., according to a letter from DHL's attorney's Sheppard Mullin.

Generally, the military does not fly out of March between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m.

So far, no formal proposal for a public hearing has come forward from DHL on the 747, which would be operated by Polar Air Inc.

Lori Stone, executive director of the March Joint Powers Authority, said an environmental impact study on the jet would have to be completed by airport noise experts ESA.

After that, she said the proposal would go to a public hearing, likely in about three months. Stone said there were provisions in the environmental documents that would allow the 747 to operate during daytime hours, but it does not include sleeping hours.

In an Oct. 26 letter to the March authority, DHL attorneys said DHL does not wish to conduct any joint review and that, in their view, no further environmental studies are required.

Stone said the airport authority is determined to proceed with a study and that its findings would be made public.

Distrust over the DHL project still lingers after the 2004 public hearings during which hundreds of Riverside-area residents who opposed the project were assured they wouldn't be awakened by nighttime noise and during which inaccurate flight maps were displayed by the managing partner for the airport developer, Global Port.

REPORTING NOISE

Call: March Joint Powers Authority, 951-547-7000

On the Web: marchjpa.com

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