By Ted Lipien
JetSuite Plane at Truckee Airport. JetSuite is one of several companies offering semi-commercial plane travel to Truckee for affluent travelers who seem unconcerned about the damage private jets do to the quality of life of local residents and the environment. EcoTruckee.org Public Domain Photo by Ted Lipien
Call to Scrap 2004 Truckee Jet Noise Limits Resolution
A call for scrapping the 2004 Truckee Airport Jet Noise Limits Resolution from Board President John Jones came as Truckee for all practical purposes has already become an in-town setting for an urban-like commercial airport for the privileged few. Only the low flying jets and jet noise in and around Truckee reveal this dramatic change of status to ordinary lower and middle class town residents who subsidize with their tax dollars the damage to their own environment, quality of life and home values.
Rich individuals can now book a semi-commercial jet flight to Truckee at any time. With a few keystrokes, JetSuite website will show them how much hiring a private jet to fly from San Francisco or from any other airport to Truckee will cost. Local residents are paying to provide these travelers with a luxurious and well-managed airport when they arrive.
Another company, Surf Air, a California-based airline, now offers unlimited flights (billed as “all-you-can-fly”) for a fixed monthly fee. Surf Air added Truckee Airport as a destination in May 2014. The company uses the Pilatus PC-12, a single-engine turboprop passenger aircraft. “With no lines and no wait, nothing stands between you and the joy of flying,” the company says. Nothing — except the environment, Truckee home owners and visitors seeking quiet rest and recreation.
As someone who has attended the Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board meetings for the last two years, I was not surprised when Board President, Mr. John Jones, called last month for either scrapping or modifying a 2004 Truckee Tahoe Airport District resolution which called for initiating a process to control the tempo and times of airport operations when the proportion of jets exceeds 15% of the total.
Attempts to discourage and limit jet traffic should be done in accordance with legally applicable measures, the 2004 resolution states, since federal regulations may prohibit certain outright restrictions on air traffic. The resolution was discussed at the Truckee Tahoe Airport District’s Board of Directors meeting on January 28, 2015, although the board meeting agenda posted online did not refer in any way to “jets,” “jet noise” or even “plane noise.” This seems to me yet another way of making sure the growing problem of jet/plane noise in Truckee is kept out of the public eye and local media as much as possible. With local papers not paying yet much attention to the problem, explosion of jet traffic and jet noise still remains one of Truckee’s best kept secrets.
The 2004 Truckee Airport jet noise resolution does not address any current national trends which also show a sharp increase in private jet traffic. Mr. Jones, however, labeled the resolution as “out of date” and said that he wants to have it either scrapped or modified at some point this year. It appears that the resolution seems to interfere with his plans to accommodate and facilitate jet traffic to Truckee.
Truckee-Tahoe Versus National Trends
Some Truckee Airport Board members and staffers have pointed to a “national trend” of expanding private jet traffic as justifying a plan for building jet hangars and other new facilities. Mr. Jones is one of them. At least one or two of the other Board members are also strong supporters of attracting new residents to the Truckee area through development of new housing and creation of vaguely defined businesses offering high-paying professional jobs. They show great pride in their pro-development philosophy. There is a sparkle in their eyes and great enthusiasm in their voices and as they speak of plans for attracting companies and for more building activity in the area.
They obviously love the Truckee-Tahoe region and love whatever they do for their own private businesses and for the community. But they may love it all to death. A noisy private jet flying low over Truckee and nearby lakes and hiking trails is becoming the ultimate symbol of that love. They don’t seem to stop to think that perhaps many people have moved to Truckee to escape the high-stress business environment and the ordinary suburban lifestyle. Senior staffers also frequently mention the Airport’s contributions to the local business community and the community at large. They keep referring to national trends, seemingly forgetting that national trends also included at one time or another unleaded gasoline and sub-prime mortgages.
EcoTruckee.org Public Domain Photo by Ted Lipien
As a still somewhat pristine and extremely ecologically fragile mountain and lake resort region, Truckee-Tahoe is hardly typical of the rest of the nation in terms of accommodating growing private jet traffic, unrestricted construction and business development. With iconic Donner Lake and Lake Tahoe nearby, Truckee deserves maximum protection against damage to the environment. Such protection is the only thing that makes the town’s long-term tourist appeal and economic future viable. The Truckee airport happens to be almost next to the downtown district, which is also hardly typical for most American and European small towns that bill themselves as destinations for ecotourism.
During the two years or so I attended the Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board meetings, these environmental and long-term economic concerns were almost never raised by the majority of Board members in those terms, except to some degree — only in words rather than actions — at the last meeting, perhaps as a result of EcoTruckee.org reporting and Facebook activity. The call to scrap or modify the 2004 Limits on Jet Noise Resolution suggests that what some of these Board members say at public meetings should be viewed with both concern and caution.
Watch all of the Truckee Tahoe Airport January 28, 2015 meeting HERE.
In my view, there is nothing wrong or outdated about the 2004 jet noise limits resolution. With the growing public awareness of environmental threats, it is even more relevant for the Truckee-Tahoe region now than it was in 2004. I also do not see any of the objections raised by Mr. Jones as even remotely valid. To me they seem more designed to confuse the public by introducing tangential or irrelevant points. One of the favorite ones is the repetition of the phrase by Mr. Jones, some other Board members and staff that almost all planes comply with the noise abatement procedures. They are “compliant.” If they are, it simply means that there are too many jets flying over Truckee, which is exactly what the Airport Board in 2004 tried to prevent.
The 2004 resolution stands on its own. It does not make the 15% jet traffic threshold dependent on anything else, as Mr. Jones and at least one other Airport Board member implied. Although it also mentions the projected 2020 operations count of 61,600, which may or may not be reached (probably not), the resolution does not link the two in any way. Back in 2004, Board members wisely recognized jets and jet noise as a unique problem for the environment and the community in a small resort town.
The 2004 resolution already refers to private jets becoming less noisy and still calls for the 15% jet traffic threshold. As many Truckee residents have noticed, the fact that a new generation of private jets is now in use is hardly relevant if they fly low over their homes and over hiking trails, as they do now. Less noisy for jets is highly relative, since they are still at the very top of any charts for noise generating sources.
A staff memo analyzing the 2004 resolution was presented to Airport Board members and posted online.
Truckee residents as well as most people find jet noise far more disturbing than other types of plane noise, especially in a rural, mountain and resort environment which we still have here to some degree. Glaringly noisy but a slightly quieter private jet flying over Tahoe Donner far more frequently than a private jet ten years ago is hardly an improvement.
Quieter and faster jets seems to be yet another justification being advanced by some Board members to convince the community to tolerate increasing jet traffic over the Truckee-Tahoe region.
Community Member Speaks Out Against Jet Noise
A member of the public, Ms. Tatjana Bennett, who spoke at the January 28, 2015 Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board meeting, seemed just as dismayed as I was by some of the Board members trying to attach different interpretations to the resolution than what it actually says. She rightly called it an attempt to “find a loophole.”
She and some of the other members of the public in the audience also did not appear convinced by an explanation that in 2004 the Airport did not have a system for accurate counting of planes landing and taking off, but it has such a system in place now. Supposedly, there were more flights in 2004 than there are now, but presumably fewer of them were private jets. There are now far more jets flying over Truckee than a few years ago, and there will be more if nothing is done about it soon.
Supporters of Growth on Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board of Directors
Some of the Board members insisted that the Airport constantly tries to find ways to mitigate against plane noise and therefore it is already in compliance with the 2004 resolution. However, during the two years I attended these meetings jets and jet noise have hardly ever been mentioned. A lot of lip service has been given to noise abatement procedures, but I failed to notice any improvement. In fact, jet traffic and noise have gotten much worse. A lot of talk, a lot of time and money spent — and no progress, except in the wrong direction.
What I heard during the past two years at the Airpot Board meetings instead were constant new proposals from the staff and some of the key Board members for expanding airport facilities and building new ones, with very little discussion about improving existing procedures, staff training and safety. While they were not busy supporting airport expansion projects, some members were sometimes seen absorbed reading their private emails or surfing the web during board meetings. One of them even admitted to it in public.
Mr. Jones and another Board member, Mr. James Morrison, appear to be by far the strongest supporters among Board members of building a large jet hangar and other new big hangars with the help of the $4.3 million annual property tax subsidy the Airport gets from local residents, even though 60% of local residents who reported dissatisfaction with the Airport’s efforts to minimize aircraft noise are deeply concerned about jet noise, according to a 2013 survey.
Airport officials insist that these hangars are not going to encourage more jet traffic to the airport, or will have a minimal impact, but some local pilots said without any hesitation at a recent public meeting that any airport facility improvements, even such minor ones as an airport cafeteria serving good food, inevitably lead to increased plane traffic. The terminal building, constructed with the help of tax money is new, modern, large, and nicely furnished — quite a contrast with the local Truckee Public Library or some of the local school buildings.
Rather than listen to experienced local pilots for free, Airport officials decided at the last meeting to pay tens of thousands of tax dollars to a company that may benefit from future airport contracts to study what drives traffic to the Truckee Airport.
Having seen how Airport officials design surveys and handle public relations, I doubt that the study will produce any results they do not want to see. Airport staffers say that almost nothing they do leads to increasing jet traffic. It’s all external forces causing jet traffic to increase, according to them.
Truckee Airport Staff
Such statements seem highly questionable to me, but for the sake of balance I interviewed last November Mr. Kevin Smith, General Manager, and Mr. Hardy Bullock, Director Of Aviation & Community Services. They give an impression of being strongly committed to their jobs and the interests of the community, as they see them. They also seem highly competent in running the airport and keeping it in excellent shape with plenty of public money at their disposal. They deny that they try to encourage more plane traffic to Truckee and insist they already are doing everything possible to limit plane noise.
Some local pilots who are not running the airport can be very frank in expressing their opinions even if they are also strong supporters of local aviation. Several of them said at a public meeting I attended that because of its location, high elevation, high mountains, and the weather, the Truckee airport is one of the most dangerous GA airports in the country.
But in an apparent effort to gain public support, Airport officials are trying hard to sell the jet hangar as a venue for community events, including children. They have lined up several local nonprofit groups which would like to use part of the hangar for their activities at no charge or at low cost. There are already many empty large buildings in Truckee, including the Truckee Hospital Cancer Center, not to mention numerous empty retail stores and deteriorating business infrastructure. But Airport officials what to construct yet another large building against the Truckee skyline — possibly the largest building structure in the area.
In pursuing the plan to construct a huge banquet hall in a jet hangar, the Airport may be using public tax money to compete against established local businesses, in addition to creating public safety, traffic congestion, and environmental problems. If this and similar proposed Airport-supported and publicly-funded development projects, including a multi-million dollar office building for Clear Capital even after the company is moving most of its jobs to Reno, are allowed to proceed, the Airport may rightly be perceived as being run for the benefit of the development and construction industry. This would have a significant impact on the community.
If local residents think traffic is bad now at the four corners highway intersection 267/Soaring Way/Brockway on a holiday weekend, this will be everyday traffic once PC-3 is rezoned. Add to that the increased air and noise pollution and car traffic from the Airport-supported building projects, this is a bad idea for the region’s future. Local government officials should definitely pay close attention to previous plane crashes and the dangerous designation of the airport in approving any kind of residential and commercial building projects at and near the Truckee Tahoe Airport.
Airport-produced Flyer Photo for the proposed Truckee Tahoe Airport “New Combined Aviation Community Use Building,” a euphemism for a jet hangar.
As a confirmation of what local pilots said about the Truckee airport being highly dangerous to use, a private plane crashed into an existing hangar in 2012, killing the pilot. A major explosion was apparently barely avoided. There have been several other crashes at and near the airport in recent years — nine between 2008 and 2012.
SEE: “Thursday plane crash is ninth in past four years at Truckee airport,” Kevin MacMillan, Sierra Sun, August 2, 2012.
Are parents who send their children to events at the Truckee Airport informed how dangerous this airport, or any such high-altitude mountain airport, can be, not only because of the risk of planes crashing, but also due to heavy equipment, fuel and other chemicals stored and used in plane hangars? Are school officials and environmental groups concerned? Shouldn’t public money be redirected from serving the tiny rich minority and used instead to build in a safe location a new large public library for lower and middle class Truckee children and adults? I have heard Airport officials talking about building a public library on Airport property — a truly bad idea. The library should be build in a safe location, near to where children live and go to school.
Community Not Well Informed
While Airport officials have been heavily promoting the building of a new large jet hangar, information about sharp increases in jet traffic and noise complaints, as well as the Truckee Airport being a dangerous location, has not been widely communicated to the public.
The community also has not been widely informed about industry forecasts for increased jet traffic. Airport officials point to the new Master Plan, which is available on the Airport website and has some of this information, but hardly anyone reads such long documents. Critical material facts were not provided to the public before public opinion surveys were done and before the Master Plan was formulated. Having attended some of the community outreach workshops, I found them highly flawed in being designed to hide rather than to communicate inconvenient facts.
Airport-initiated survey questions about expanding airport facilities had been phrased to emphasize potential non-aviation benefits to various local groups while failing to mention any significant noise impacts or other environmental threats. Airport officials have not put any of the negative information in a promotional brochure for the proposed new hangar, which was published with the help of local taxpayers’ money. They have failed to inform the community in any effective way about the effect of plane noise on home values.
Many local lower and middle class residents are not even aware that their tax money is being used to subsidize a tiny group of affluent individuals in their use of the Truckee airport. These flights are believed to cause damage to the fragile local environment and have a detrimental effect on the quality of life of local residents. The body of published literature consistently reflects a real and negative impact of plane noise on property market values.
Plane Noise Impact on Home Values
SEE: “The Effect of Airport Noise on Housing Values: A Summary Report,” Office of Environment and Energy, Federal Aviation Administration, 1994.
SEE: The Impact of Airport Noise on Residential Real Estate, Randall Bell, MAI, The Appraisal Journal, 2001.
In addition to noise, private jet travel produces an enormous carbon footprint per person. Unlike car travel on I-80 or train transport through Truckee, which are both economically essential and benefit almost everyone, private jet use is entirely optional and exclusive. Unlike I-80, which is used by almost everyone, private jet travel is done for the convenience of a tiny minority and its negative impact on the community is entirely preventable.
Instead of flying to Truckee over the town, its residential and recreational areas, rich individuals can take commercial flights to Reno, fly their private jets to Reno, or use other more ecologically friendly options. This message is not being communicated by the Truckee Airport.
Rather than encourage flights to Reno and help to promote ecotourism through commercial aviation that would preserve Truckee for future generations as an attractive tourist town, Truckee Airport officials are promoting and defending their decision to build jet hangars as consistent with forecasts and trends, as well as benefiting the local economy.
But not all trends and forecasts are good, as most people can attest. The current transfer of wealth and social resources from the lower and middle income taxpayers to the very rich, while imposting the economic and social costs of intrusive anti-environmental habits of the rich on Truckee’s general population, has been going on for years and is getting worse. This is also a national trend.
There may be indeed some short term economic benefits for the local construction and real estate sector until the environment and the special resort character that attracts tourists to the area in the first place are destroyed. The rosy predictions of some Airport Board members and some Truckee Chamber of Commerce officials of Truckee becoming a destination for new residents creating well-paying jobs are as real as the predictions for the Tahoe Forest Cancer Center at the Truckee Hospital. These predictions, even if they were real, and a promise of Truckee being a good place to live, are ultimately in the long run mutually exclusive.
Sharp Increase in Jet Traffic
What is real is a significant increase in jet traffic at the Truckee Airport observed by local residents and visitors in the summer of 2014 and measured by the Airport.
Note this highly significant statement: “A continued industry-wide shift in the fleet mix away from piston powered aircraft toward increasing numbers of turboprop and jet operations is consistent with forecasts.”
This statement is significant because Airport officials claim that the community at large is well aware of these forecasts and still approves of hangar building projects and other facility improvements to meet the increasing demand for jets by the super rich as being consistent with the growth and the interests of the community, by which they probably mean the interests of of the weekend mansion owners and local developers.
There has been an increase in jet noise complaints, but note how Airport officials try to present those who complain as being odd and representing a tiny portion of the community. I found it disturbing that they would reveal detailed medical and personal information that could help identify those individuals who file noise complaints. (This should not, however, stop local residents from posting complaints, just don’t reveal personal information.)
On some weekend days in the summer, being outdoors on a deck or even hiking in certain areas around Truckee are made extremely unpleasant by almost constant jet and other plane noise. Jets are particularly intrusive for anyone seeking peace and quiet. But most Truckee residents do not know how to complain.
Local residents should attend and speak at Board meetings (the next one is February 11, 2015 5:30 PM), post noise complaints online, call (530) 587-4119 or 1-800-FLY-2TRK, or contact Board President Mr. John Jones and other Board members. In the future, they should run in local elections for seats on the Truckee Tahoe District Board of Directors.
While the proportion of jet operations in Truckee has already exceeded the 15% trigger for action by Airport officials, at least two if not most of the current Board members have responded by discussing and supporting construction of jet hangars.
Not everyone, however, is on the more-jets-good-for-the-economy-and-the-community bandwagon.
The strongest expressions of support for keeping and enforcing the 2004 Jet Noise Limits Resolution came from Board member Ms. Mary Hetherington. She has also voiced her strong opposition to building jet hangars as causing potential damage to the community and the environment. During the time I observed Airport meetings, she was consistently outvoted by other Board members on several key issues, and not at all well treated by some.
But such statements and apparent efforts to mitigate plane noise rarely translate into anything approaching a solution to the problem, as plane noise — and particularly jet noise — keep growing rather than declining. Local residents are right to be suspicious. Implementation of the 2004 resolution is needed more now than at any time in the past.
As one of the experienced local pilots observed at a recent public meeting, the safe airspace for flying to this very dangerous airport is very limited and therefore not much can be done to minimize noise. Much of the talk about noise abatement procedures is for me nothing but talk for public relations purposes. At best, it produces minimal results by diverting the problem from one area to somebody else’s area, and not even that. A lot of time is spent on non-productive discussions and studies costing local taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Plainly speaking, Truckee is not a town and a region that can accommodate and tolerate large amount of plane traffic, especially jet traffic. It simply can’t. Reno with its commercial urban airport is a perfectly good alternative for anybody who cares about the environment.
Board members need to work seriously on discouraging the overall growth of jet traffic to the Truckee airport and actually reducing it, which to me, most of them seem not prepared to do at this time. They should ultimately be evaluated on how they vote on airport expansion projects, not on what they may say at public Board meeting in support of the environment and noise abatement. In my view, only Ms. Hetherington has been perfectly consistent in both advocating and voting on behalf of the community which does not want to see more jet traffic and more damage to the environment and the local quality of life.
In another move that should deeply worry local taxpayers, the Airport recently promised donations to two local environmental groups, the Tahoe Fund and the Truckee River Watershed Council, based directly on jet fuel sales at the airport.
The greater the number of noisy jets flying over Truckee, the more money these green organizations will get.
Worrisome? Ironic? Brazen?
Could this be an attempt to silence potential environmental opposition to the jet hangar building project, jet traffic, jet noise and air pollution? Are Airport officials in effect buying community support with taxpayers money right and left? Are they in effect acting as Santa Claus with their generous pot of public money, setting broad economic and social policy goals — a task that rightly belongs to other officials, those elected specifically to deal with economic and social issues in the Town of Truckee and in the surrounding counties?
The jet fuel donation initiative itself represents a highly worrisome and longstanding trend of using public tax subsidies for purely PR and political purposes (while donation money may come from jet owners, their use of the airport is subsidized by local taxpayers). Together with increasing jet traffic, this practice needs to stop.
Mr. Jones’ comments and any other attempts to scrap or weaken the 2004 Jet Noise Limits Resolution are also highly worrisome and should be strongly opposed by the public together with the proposal to build jet hangars for a few millionaires at the expense of the environment, using the money of lower and middle class local residents.
Noblesse oblige. I know this is not what the country gets much of right now. As someone who has benefitted greatly from the American Dream and likes planes and commercial plane travel, I am not at all opposed to capitalism and successful individuals using their wealth to live here. But at the very least, they should not ask local middle class taxpayers to subsidize their poor environmental habits and impose the high environmental costs of their irresponsible private jet travel on the local community.
A Better Way
District residents’ tax money would be much better spent on building a new larger, modern multi-media Public Library for Truckee children, supporting education, solving a multitude of social problems, and for promoting ecotourism.
Better education and ecotourism are the only long-term viable and sustainable social and economic model for this resort community unless we want tourists to start avoiding this town and to live ourselves among deteriorating strip malls. How will Truckee be different from a suburb of Sacramento if proponents of unrestricted development have their way?
The development model favored by some Truckee Airport Board members, some local builders, and some local government officials has already produced a strip mall with empty stores quality to some parts of Truckee. It can only get worse unless the community gets involved and says no to more uncontrolled development and more jet traffic.
The future of this town is in ecotourism. It is not in hangars for noise and carbon spewing private jets of the super rich flying to spend a few days at their weekend mansions inside their gated communities. Those who do seem to care very little for the environment and the quality of life for the rest of us as they leave their noise and carbon footprint over Truckee.
Local residents need to strongly oppose President Jones’ call for scrapping the 2004 Jet Noise Limits Resolution for the Truckee Tahoe Airport. Let’s urge him and other Airport Board members to start implementing it instead. Tell these elected officials and Airport staff that if they think the Jet Noise Limits Resolution is already being observed and implemented, they are mistaken.
Ted Lipien is a journalist, writer and media freedom nonprofit NGO director. His articles have been published in The Washington Times, The Washington Examiner, National Review, American Diplomacy Journal and in other newspapers and magazines. His investigative journalism work has been noted by NPR, Fox News, Congressional Record, The Washington Post, The New York Times and other publications. Much of his professional work as a journalist and former acting associate director of the Voice of America (VOA) was focused on Soviet disinformation and propaganda. He has been a Truckee resident for the past four years. He is the author of “WOJTYŁA’s WOMEN: How They Shaped the Life of Pope John Paul II and Changed the Catholic Church,” published in the UK by O-Books (2008) and in Poland.
Airport Community Comments & Operations Report-3rd Quarter 2014 for Community Members, Board of Directors, ACAT and Staff (Available Online – Click to See Full Document)
Note that residents were told about the proposed hangar being available for community use, public events, and nonprofit organizations, but they were not informed about forecasts of rapidly growing jet traffic or any negative impact of jet traffic and jet noise on quality of life, environment, home values and tourist appeal of the Truckee Tahoe region. The answer to the prior question clearly contradicts poorly-informed answers to the hangar question. This kind of manipulation and management of public opinion has been typical of some Truckee Airport officials. They, of course, insist that the proposed hangars will not lead to increased jet traffic to the airport, which even some local pilots find hardly believable.
Back to 2015
Please compare, when you have a chance, the luxurious exterior and interior of the Truckee Airport terminal building to the old, small and neglected Public Library building in Truckee or some of the truly shamefully neglected local school buildings. Compare the relative pleasant and quiet environment of the remote hilltop gated communities with the jet noise over Truckee’s less affluent working class and middle class neighborhoods.
EcoTruckee.org Public Domain Photo by Ted Lipien
EcoTruckee.org Public Domain Photo by Ted Lipien
Volunteer for Eco Truckee Tahoe
Email Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board members and urge them to take community concerns about jet noise seriously.
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