Future of Tracy's Airports Up in Air

Small California town debates future of its two GA airports.

One company even has expressed interest in securing a lease from the city to build a corporate hanger, according to city documents.

Through federal grants and sheer determination, the entire lighting system for the runway and airfield have been replaced, including special lights indicating to pilots if their approach for landing is too high or too low.

The council authorized in January the hiring of an airport coordinator who would be able to address and monitor day-to-day airport operations more closely.

The New Jerusalem Airport sits on about 400 acres southwest of Tracy just beyond Interstate 5 and Highway 33, and is the larger of the two airports. Much of the property is leased out to a Sacramento farmer, and the only access is via dirt roads, some through private property.

The only thing visible from Durham Ferry Road indicating an airport is a windsock, which indicates to pilots the direction of the wind.

The 4,000-foot-long runway, which runs east-west, is full of bumps and sprouting weeds, not the best scenario for aircraft landing at about 65 mph. City employees, with help from workers on an alternative work release program through the San Joaquin County Jail, continually seal cracks.

And that's an improvement from five years ago.

"When I came to the city five years ago, the weeds were up to here," said Buchanan, a pilot himself, gesturing toward his chest on his 6-foot-2 frame. "Now they can land safely, taxi around and take off again."

Until a gate recently was installed, it was mostly used as a racing site by local youths.

The Boyd report called the New Jerusalem "not an airport but instead a strip of concrete located in agricultural fields" with no future in the region's airport infrastructure and virtually no value to the community.

The report recommended the city sell the airport and reinvest the money in the Tracy Municipal Airport, but federal officials won't release the site from surplus property restrictions that would allow the city to transfer ownership.

Last month, the Tracy City Council authorized city staff to begin negotiating with Richland Inc. and explore a long-term lease or development agreement that may include an option for sale of the property.

At their own expense, Richland might pay to hire a consultant or attorney to assist with getting federal approval for sale or other use of the property, according to city documents.

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