Hearing Set on Marin County Airport Runway Extension

July 17, 2019

Pilots and residents will get another chance next month to critique the longstanding, controversial plan to extend Marin County Airport’s runway.

A public hearing in Novato will focus on the Federal Aviation Administration’s updated draft of the project’s environmental review, which recommends a 300-foot northward extension of the 3,300-foot runway.

“It’s taken a long time,” Tony Williams, assistant public works director, told the Board of Supervisors during an update on Tuesday, “but basically that is addressing total length of the extension.”

The hearing is set for 7 p.m. Aug. 22 at the Marin Humane Society auditorium at 171 Bel Marin Keys Blvd. Members of the public will be able to submit both oral and written comments. The deadline for all comment submissions is 5 p.m. Sept. 6.

A 1,100-foot extension was suggested in the project’s original 2014 environmental review, but the FAA reduced it after a consultant study showed there would be fewer flights and landings for aircraft that require lengthier runways.

The FAA bases the runway length off the use by the most “critical aircraft” at the airport, which are those that have 500 or more annual takeoffs and landings, according to FAA regional spokesman Ian Gregor.

The county was planning to spend about $13.5 million, primarily from FAA grants, on the runway project under a 1,100-foot extension. A cost estimate for a 300-foot option is still being evaluated by staff.

As the first environmental review was being developed, the critical aircraft was determined to be the Cessna 525. But as the agency reviewed public comments on its final environmental review, a $84,613 consultant’s study showed a reduced number of existing and forecast takeoffs and landings. The Class B-II Turboprop was also determined to be the airport’s critical aircraft.

“The B-II aircraft group has wingspans of 49 to 79 feet and a landing approach speed between 91 and 121 knots,” Gregor wrote in an email on Tuesday. “This aircraft group would require a 300-foot runway extension to operate without weight restrictions under hot weather conditions.”

After the change in 2016, criticism among pilots that the study undercounted the number of large business jets that use the airport prompted the FAA to conduct more public outreach and seek usage data from pilots who operate out of the airport, also known as Gnoss Field. But after the review concluded in 2018 the agency came to the same conclusion it did in 2016.

The Gnoss Field Community Association, a nonprofit formed by pilots there, has not taken a position on the 300-foot recommendation, but it supported the 1,100-foot option. Ken Mercer, president of the association’s board, said the longer runway “would have provided larger safety margins and reduced noise impacts on our neighbors by moving aircraft operations further north.”

“Although our board has not yet taken a position, a large number of our members have expressed concern that a mere 300-foot extension is not worth the expense nor the operational time lost during construction,” Mercer wrote in an email, “a sentiment likely derived from the stifling cost overruns and back-breaking (for airport businesses) airport closure resulting from the 2017 runway reconstruction project.”

Still, Mercer said a 300-foot extension would provide additional runway safety areas “which are always welcomed by pilots,” he said.

The county is still paying back a $1.1 million loan it made from its general fund to pay for cost overruns for the $3.4 million runway reconstruction project, which was completed in 2018. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to accept a $300,000 grant from the FAA; this is in addition to a $341,158 FAA grant the county received in May. This leaves a nearly $459,000 remaining balance on the loan, which county staff said will most likely be paid back using a state loan.

Ensuring continued upkeep and safety at Gnoss Field is important, Mercer wrote, as the airport hosts the Civil Air Patrol, medical flights and law enforcement air operations, and provides a base for flights that serve the local business community.

“The airport is self-sufficient, operating solely on rents and service fees to users with federal and state grants for capital projects,” Mercer wrote. “Those of us who base our airplanes or have a business at Gnoss contribute over $450,000 per year to the County general fund and the Novato Unified School District via personal property taxes on our planes and equipment.”

Written comments on the draft supplemental environmental impact statement can be submitted online at [email protected] or by mail addressed to Doug Pomeroy, Federal Aviation Administration San Francisco Airports District Office, 1000 Marina Blvd., Suite 220, Brisbane, CA 94005-1835.

The environmental documents and project information can be found online at gnossfieldeis-eir.com.


©2019 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

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