Tuesday, April 04, 2006 | Monday’s discussion about a commercial airport at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar sounded much the same as when the airport authority board talked about it in February. The votes fell along similar lines.
But a glaring difference was obvious as the authority’s board agreed 6-to-3 to study how Miramar could be used if the Marines were gone.
Time. It’s getting even shorter.
The San Diego County Regional Airport Authority has a self-imposed May deadline to decide on a site for an airport to replace Lindbergh Field. The due date to submit language for the November ballot initiative is Aug. 11.
On Monday, the authority agreed to develop what-if scenarios examining what Marine Corps Air Station Miramar would look like sans Marines. The authority will study how military assets could be shifted around – from Miramar to other area bases or possibly elsewhere within Miramar’s boundaries – to accommodate a commercial airport.
The ideas that could be produced won’t be ready until late April or early May, and would likely require in-depth study if the authority wants to explore any for inclusion on the ballot.
Until now, the authority board has solely considered joint-use, which would have military and civilian aircraft sharing runways and air space.
The Pentagon has flatly rejected that idea, and it remains unclear just how the authority would get control of the base. Capt. Mike Allen, chief of staff for Navy Region Southwest, the local Naval command, has repeatedly said the military won’t discuss what-if scenarios. The military doesn’t have plans to close Miramar, either, saying that recent rounds of base closures only affirmed its importance.
In early March, the board unanimously voted down a what-if scenario that had been labeled the “out-of-the-box idea.” That would have built a military-only runway at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, allowing some Miramar operations to shift north. A new runway and terminal at Miramar would’ve been built to accommodate all of San Diego’s commercial air traffic.
But the authority halted those plans after being faced with the prospect of spending $400,000 on a deeper study that would’ve pushed the site-selection program over its $13.5 million budget.
Board member Xema Jacobson, who voted against the study, criticized Monday’s decision, saying the board was revisiting an already-rejected proposal.
Mary Teresa Sessom, a board member and Lemon Grove’s mayor, said studying Miramar without the Marines would simply serve to further polarize the area’s congressional delegation, without providing a solution to the area’s transportation needs.
“If we think we’ve got opposition now to joint-use,” Sessom said, “what a huge white elephant we’re going to be creating … with this study.”
Sessom and Jacobson were joined by board member Robert L. Maxwell in voting against the study, while Joe Craver, William D. Lynch, Paul G. Nieto, Paul A. Peterson, Morris Vance and Tony Young supported the study.
Lynch said the authority is “locked in” to the three military sites under evaluation: Miramar, Camp Pendleton and Naval Air Station North Island. Lynch has already questioned whether problems created by wind at North Island would be too problematic. On Monday, he questioned whether Camp Pendleton would be too far away to site an airport.
Lynch said options are limited. Unless the authority works something out with the military, “this area is going to suffer greatly economically,” he said.
“The truth is sinking in,” Lynch said. “We are between a rock and a hard place.”
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