County Considers $17 Million Novato Airport Expansion

An ambitious $17 million plan to improve the county airport at Gnoss Field by extending the runway 1,100 feet would cut through wetland habitat, but won't have any "significant unavoidable impact" on the environment, a county consultant says

Feb. 09--An ambitious $17 million plan to improve the county airport at Gnoss Field by extending the runway 1,100 feet would cut through wetland habitat, but won't have any "significant unavoidable impact" on the environment, a county consultant says.

The runway project, which officials said is needed to improve safety, efficiency and meet Federal Aviation Administration standards, has drawn fire from neighbors who fear a fleet of bigger, noisy jets.

It also has raised eyebrows from environmentalists since the project would require filling almost 12 acres of wetlands, as well as nearly three acres of channels and ditches.

But an analysis by Landrum & Brown, a global aviation consulting firm which bills itself as an advocate of "sustainable green airport" programs, all but dismissed the possibility of bigger aircraft, and said measures can be taken to ease environmental concerns.

The report indicates the project at the 120-acre facility north of Novato will provide enough runway to allow "existing aircraft ... to operate at maximum gross takeoff weight" in adverse weather conditions. Maximum passenger, cargo and fuel loads are now limited by a 3,300-foot runway.

Neighbors, however, say the report fails to analyze potential impacts, including noise generated by bigger jets, and plan to show up at the Civic Center at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday when county supervisors are scheduled to weigh in.

Christopher Gilkerson of Saddle Wood Drive says he is among 90 neighbors with concerns about extending the runway because the move could attract bigger jets that will disrupt the community. Gilkerson called the consultant's analysis "a shoddy piece of analytical work" that ignores the impacts of "the larger and louder jets that would be attracted."

Further, Gilkerson said the expensive plan does make economic sense in light of a county contention that the project would merely allow existing aircraft there, including the biggest, a single Cessna 525 air taxi, to take off with a full cargo.

The airport, home for 206 single-engine aircraft, 15 multiengine craft and a helicopter, accommodates 85,000 air arrivals and departures a year. The number of aircraft based at the facility is expected to increase about 1.4 percent annually to 387 planes in 2027, with arrivals and departures increasing to 124,300 over the period.

"Commercial aviation ... is anticipated to grow at an average annual rate of 5.7 percent from 2013 to 2018 ... with or without the runway extension," county officials reported in a "question and answer" sheet prepared for county supervisors. In any event, major airlines will not be able to use the facility. Smaller craft as well as those with wingspans up to 79 feet that "currently operate at the airport are expected to continue."

The county report added that officials cannot regulate the type of aircraft that can be allowed.

"Gnoss Field is available to all aircraft that can be accommodated ... The proposed project will have the effect of allowing existing aircraft that use Gnoss Field that are currently weight-restricted by the runway length to depart fully loaded."

Further, "the proposed changes will not accommodate larger aircraft than the critical aircraft type ... Cessna 525 that currently land at Gnoss Field," the staff report asserted.

As for noise implications for residents in the Bahia and Rush Creek areas, "with the runway extension, aircraft would be able to take off, climb higher and turn away (from residences) sooner, which will reduce the noise levels for the homeowners," the report said.

Plans to extend the runway, envisioned by both the county's airport master plan and the countywide plan, depend largely on federal funding. The expansion plan could cost $16.9 million, with $2.1 million in federal grants already in hand. The tab is in addition to $4.4 million in capital improvements needed at the facility, including an automated weather observation system, pump station, asphalt repair and related work.

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