By Ted Lipien
Residents raise aviation safety and plane noise concerns in asking Truckee Airport Board to acquire open space land
At the April 22, 2015 Truckee Tahoe Airport District board meeting, Truckee residents, including several local pilots, raised aviation safety, plane noise, and overdevelopment concerns in asking board members to consider open space acquisition, using the Airport’s $4.3 million annual subsidy and reserve funds, to purchase parcels contained within the Joerger Ranch Specific Plan Area, also referred to as the Planned Community-3 (PC-3) Specific Plan Area. These requests were specifically for the parcel between Highway 267 and the Ponderosa Golf Course, known as “Parcel 4.”
Local residents, including pilots, want to preserve this area from development to maintain open space, reduce the risk of fatal plane crashes and to prevent sprawl. Because of its location and terrain, the Truckee airport is considered to be one of the most dangerous general aviation airports in the United States. Town of Truckee Mayor Alicia Barr and Council members Carolyn Wallace Dee, Morgan Goodwin, and Patrick Flora ignored concerns about overdevelopment, traffic congestion, risk of plane crashes, air pollution and other safety and quality of life issues expressed earlier by several local residents and local pilots at the Town Council meeting on March 24, 2015 and unanimously approved rezoning of PC-3 for commercial and residential development. A purchase of Parcel 4 by the Airport with public money provided to the Airport by local taxpayers or a land swap could preserve part of the PC-3 area from development and keep it as open space. The Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board of Directors would have to approve such a purchase.
Truckee Tahoe Airport District board members, President John Jones (who participated by phone), Vice President Lisa Wallace, Director Mary Hetherington, Director Tom Van Berkem, and Director James Morrison, did not commit themselves at the April 22 meeting to any specific course of action, although they did not appear to be in principle opposed to the requests from residents and pilots. The board ordered staff to explore various options, including a swap of land between the Airport and the owners of PC-3, or a combination of a swap and a land purchase.
Some of the board members suggested that any purchase or swap take into consideration the interests of the Town of Truckee and its desire to see high density housing constructed on Parcel 4. No preliminary or final decisions were made about any land acquisition. Such decisions are expected to be discussed and possibly made at future board meetings after expected negotiations with Parcel 4 owners.
Since serious safety and noise issues are at stake, the Truckee Tahoe Airport District Board of Directors may have a hard time refusing to fund this open space land purchase considering its recent quick decision to provide $525,000 matching fund grant of taxpayers’ dollars for building the new Aquatics Center in Truckee with no direct connection to aviation. Local voters had previously rejected a special bond for the Aquatics Center, but if the Airport did not use its public tax money for this purpose, it might have been spent on projects leading to increased plane traffic with a negative impact on the community.
At the April 22 board meeting there was also an extended discussion of plans to construct a large jet hangar with possible community uses. There was almost no discussion of any increase in jet traffic that the new hangar, if constructed, might generate and cause further damage to the environment and the quality of life and home values of some Truckee residents.
It remains to be seen whether in any promised community outreach about the jet hangar, Airport officials will clearly inform the public about the already growing jet traffic, its projected further growth, and increasing jet noise complaints. There has been almost no transparency on this issue from Airport officials. Local pilots said that constructing a new large hangar will inevitably lead to increased jet traffic over the Truckee-Tahoe region, but Truckee Airport officials, after initially saying that there might be small jet traffic increase attributed to the hangar, now deny this would be the case and say they are not sure what would happen.
Any community outreach without an open public discussion of this issue and without providing the public with all the material facts would lack transparency and validity. Such a discussion must also include all local resident voters, and not just special interest groups. Public money might be better spent on open space purchases to increase aviation safety and to protect Truckee neighborhoods from jet noise and on a well-equipped community room rather than on a new jet hangar that would encourage more extremely rich jet owners and passengers to continue their irresponsible habit of flying jets into this environmentally fragile mountain and lake region when other travel options, such as flying to Reno, are easily available. But despite public concerns over growing jet traffic and noise, the majority of the Truckee Airport board members does not seem ready to promote such options.