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Sonoma County approves $84 million to expand county airport
February 1, 2012
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  • January 30, 2012 By Noah Tenney
    While some students are happy that Sonoma County Airport will expand, allowing more flights and more airlines, not everyone shares the sentiment. Some people in the area are concerned about noise, traffic, water and air pollution caused by the upgrade.
    An $84 million project to expand the Charles M Schulz-Sonoma County Airport in order to be able to increase the amount of daily commercial flights received a unanimous endorsement from Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors on Jan. 10.
    The County Planning Commission voted 4-1 in December to approve the project. Agreeing with supporters, supervisors said the economic benefits would outweigh residential and environmental concerns. The decision followed a meeting in which at least 40 speakers gave their support or indicated their concern.
    Larry Wasem, the managing general partner at the Airport Business Center in Santa Rosa, expressed his support for the economic impact.
    “Airport Business Center thinks improved commercial aviation will help Sonoma County business and add jobs,” said Wasem. “It will undoubtedly add several new destinations to fly through from Santa Rosa.”
    The approval of the project has additionally received praise from business and construction interests, believing that local industry and tourism would benefit as a result.
    Opponents of the plan are worried about the possibility of big city traffic coming to Sonoma County, as well as the potential more flights and larger aircraft increasing air, water and noise pollution.
    Others are supportive of proposed upgrades to safety, and additionally want to see limits on noise, changes in air traffic and upgrades to roads. Supervisors supporting the concerns of opponents indicated that federal rules would make stricter limits harder to implement.
    The planned expansion would implement the 2030 Airport Master Plan, and consists of both short-term and long-term impacts. One short-term plan, which has strong support from supervisors, is to spend $42.7 million to extend the airport’s two runways in order to meet federal safety standards and increase space for larger aircraft.
    Planned long-term upgrades would include additions of a new terminal, cargo facility and control tower. Federal aviation grants would fund most of the changes.
    One result of the expansion would be an increased capacity for the number of flights each day. The current number of flights per day is five, well below the authorized limit of 21.
    While county officials anticipate economic growth and job creation, critics have pointed out that the county has overestimated levels of business and numbers of flights in the past.
    Even with the federal rules, supervisors are supporting curfew agreements on commercial flights. They also plan to discuss diverting flight paths away from Windsor schools and neighborhoods with aviation officials.
    Junior Jennifer Mendoza described her support for the expansion, indicating that it would be more convenient for her and that she would take advantage of it.
    “I think that the airport is going to make it a lot easier for residents in the county to travel regionally,” said Mendoza. “You don’t have to go to San Francisco or Oakland for regional flights. I think it would make it easier and cheaper for Sonoma State students who live in Southern California to make trips home.”
    “I would take advantage of the expansion to visit family living in Portland and Seattle,” she added. “It would help because it would make it easier to travel when it fits my schedule. As it stands now, the flights are full and the number of flights are limited.”
    Jon Stout, Sonoma County Airport manager, has indicated that about 70 percent of all the 1.6 million airline passengers in the county every year go to San Francisco to do their flying, despite the airport having a record 207,188 passengers in 2011.
    Freshman Rachel Hickey believed that the proximity of SFO and its range of destinations make the expansion unnecessary.
    “It wouldn’t be necessary to expand the Sonoma County Airport, considering that the school is only a 45 minute drive from SFO, our main airport, which provides major flight transportation to other states and countries,” said Hickey.
    Several additional actions are being taken intended to address critics’ concerns, namely a study of noise impacts to help affected residents, $9 million to reduce environmental impacts, board support for road upgrades to accommodate increased airport traffic and the delay of a public health assessment.
    According to the airport website, the construction period for the project is expected to take place in two phases: one starting in late summer 2012, and the other occurring in the summer of 2013. The project’s short-term elements are expected to be completed before 2015, while developments of the long-term elements are expected to take place between 2015 and 2030.

    Date: 2012-01-30