City has concerns, business community supports airport master plan update

City has concerns, business community supports airport master plan update
Some residents have railed against the update to McClellan-Palomar Airport, concerned about noise and air pollution and fears the county is attempting to turn the airport into a John Wayne Airport (Orange County) replica. Photo by Steve Puterski

CARLSBAD — One of the top issues facing the city was back in the spotlight March 13.

The McClellan-Palomar Airport Master Plan update and Draft Environmental Impact Report was front and center as the City Council approved sending the county of San Diego its comments regarding the plan.

The city retained independent counsel, the Denver-based Kaplan Kirsch Rockwell law firm, to review the plan and partner Sarah Rockwell detailed numerous issues with the county’s update and Draft EIR.

Rockwell’s firm was tasked with focusing on legal, technical and city-related issues in the plan. From a high-level perspective, she said, her firm has issues with portions relating to aesthetics, biological resources, noise, transportation, air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and land use.

Each topic had several specific concerns Rockwell’s 36-page comment letter addresses.

“The county does not have to do anything with our comments on the master plan,” Rockwell said. “Unlike the Draft EIR, they are required by CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), they have to respond to comments.”

She also detailed inconsistencies such as maps, boundaries, forecasts and terminology. In addition to the general topics, each of those has more than a dozen subtopics within, which the comment letter addresses in detail, Rockwell said.

According to the EIR, though, the county does not believe the update will include significant impacts to air quality, aircraft noise, cultural resources, geology, greenhouse gasses, hydrology and land use and planning. Areas of significant impacts include aesthetics, biology, hazardous materials, construction noise and road traffic.

“We also think in several cases the Draft EIR understates certain impacts because it says it is omitting general aviation activities,” Rockwell said. “In some cases, they say they are omitting general aviation activities because they have no control over general aviation activities and those are controlled by the federal government. Our view is that it doesn’t matter whether you have control or you don’t. If there is an impact, there is an impact and you need to analyze it.”

One big issue concerning noise is single-event noise impacts, she added. In addition to the request to evaluate single-event noise, Rockwell’s letter will include a request to evaluate 24-hour noise measurements around the airport.

In recent public meetings, whether held by the city or county, dozens of residents have railed against the update. Most concerns center on noise and air pollution, while others are skeptical and see the county attempting to turn the airport into a John Wayne (Orange County) replica.

However, on March 13, about a dozen business leaders, company representatives and pilots pushed back and argued in favor of the update.

Ted Owen, the current chairman of the Carlsbad Chamber of Commerce, along with two former chairs, a Viasat representative and others spoke about the need for the upgrades, specifically the runway lengthening, which would allow for long-range private charters’ nonstop service, rather than refueling at San Diego International or other major local airports before setting course across the country or abroad.

They did empathize with the residents’ concerns over noise and pollution, but cited the economic benefits of the airport, direct and indirect jobs and tax revenue.

“We understand this master plan is only the beginning of the process,” Owen said. “The improvements described in the master plan update will enable the airport to support the transition of modern aircraft, jet aircraft with longer wingspans and enhanced safety.”


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