California County Pitches for New Airport

Jan. 6--SAN DIEGO -- Building a new regional airport in sparsely populated Imperial County could see that county moved from its long-standing seat in coach to first-class among Southern California power brokers, its elected leaders said Thursday.

Imperial County Supervisor Victor Carrillo said construction of a dual-runway airport to handle the region's passenger and cargo needs for decades to come would create a "major economic engine for Southern California.

"We are trying to partner up so that we can become a major voice in the region," Carrillo said.

Imperial officials are also betting that their desire to have the airport will work in their favor.

"There's no place else that wants it," was how Imperial County Supervisor Joe Maruca put it moments after a presentation to the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority.

Maruca added that a transportation corridor tying San Diego County to points east and the booming Mexican border city of Mexicali should be a key consideration when evaluating an Imperial site.

The authority has been working since 2003 to identify a site to build a new airport to serve expected increases in cargo and passenger demand. Lindbergh Field, the nation's busiest single-runway airport prohibited from operating overnight because of its proximity to housing, is forecast to be out of room by 2020 or sooner.

Authority officials say the region needs a dual-runway airport that can operate 24 hours a day in order to meet expected demand and maintain economic vitality.

Land in Imperial County just over the San Diego County border near Interstate 8 remains one of only three civilian sites still on the authority's list of potential new airport sites. The others are a site near Campo in the southeastern part of San Diego County or expansion of downtown San Diego's Lindbergh Field.

The authority, which has a self-imposed April deadline to come up with a recommendation that will go before San Diego County voters in November for an up or down vote, also is studying shared use or construction of a new airport at three military bases, North Island Naval Air Station, Camp Pendleton and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

Maruca argued that Campo lacks sufficient infrastructure such as available power and water, and that the military bases are off-limits.

"The military won't give up Miramar and (the authority is) not going to get North Island or Pendleton, so the answer to the military sites is not just 'no," it's 'hell, no." "

During a presentation to the authority's nine-member board, Orlando Foote, chairman of the Imperial County Airport Advisory Commission, cited available land, ready supply of energy and water and the results of a recent advisory ballot on the issue as why Imperial is the solution to the airport search.

In November, Imperial County voters overwhelmingly approved an advisory measure that asked if they supported the airport. Nearly 80 percent, or 15,559, said they would, with only 4,061 opposed.

Foote said Imperial residents and officials understand the reluctance to move the airport out of San Diego.

"But we are willing to share the revenues and accept the environmental burden," he said. "We would divide the revenue stream through a cross-jurisdictional governing authority or a joint powers authority."

Foote also stressed the creation of a transportation corridor linking San Diego with points east and the potential for ties to Mexico through Mexicali, a city of more than 1 million about 25 miles from where Imperial County officials suggest the airport could be built.

A recent suggestion that the Imperial site would interfere with established Navy flight patterns between bases in San Diego and bombing ranges in Imperial isn't accurate, Foote said.

He introduced a memo from U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista, that asked the Defense Department whether locating an airport in Imperial would conflict with established airspace patterns.

The response that Filner got from a Navy official was that it does not have sufficient information to make any comment.

Filner, whose 51st Congressional District includes all of Imperial County, has championed the airport being built there and linking it to San Diego with a train powered by magnetic levitation technology. A preliminary calculation suggests that a train leaving a point in the Miramar area could reach Imperial in about 25 minutes.

A member of the House Transportation Committee, Filner got a nearly $800,000 appropriation last year for a study of the high-speed train link to San Diego. That study is being conducted by the San Diego Association of Governments, with an initial report expected next month.

A new airport would be built through a combination of federal grants and authority-issued bonds repaid through revenues generated by leases with airlines and airport concessionaires. The authority has said the only local tax dollars that would be required would be those needed to pay for highway improvements.

Contact staff writer Mark Walker at (760) 740-3529 or mlwalker@nctimes.com. To comment on this story, visit our Web site at www.nctimes.com.

Two town halls set on airport search

A pair of town hall meetings on the search for a place to build a new commercial airport will take place in North County later this month.

The first session is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, at the Oceanside Senior Citizens Center, 455 County Club Lane in Oceanside.

The second takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 19, at the Vista City Council chambers, 600 Eucalyptus Ave. in Vista.

Both will be moderated by North County Times Editor Kent Davy.

For more information, call (619) 400-2470 or visit the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority's Web site at http://www.san.org.

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