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Wednesday, May 17, 2006 | Joint-use airports shared by civilians and the military would work at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, but would be problematic at Naval Air Station North Island, according to a detailed analysis released Tuesday.

Building two new runways and terminals at Miramar and Camp Pendleton would not pose a safety risk or compromise the military’s mission, the airport authority study said, rebuking military officials’ repeated refrain that joint-use will not work at any local base.

The 2,800-page study, estimated to cost between $2.5 million and $3 million, culminated the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s site-selection analysis that has been underway since the authority’s creation in 2003.

With technical data now complete for five sites – Miramar, Camp Pendleton, North Island/Lindbergh Field, Boulevard and Imperial County – none has emerged as a perfect alternative to alleviating capacity constraints projected to arise sometime around 2015 at the existing airport, said Thella Bowens, the airport authority’s president and chief executive officer.

But supporters of putting a new international airport at Miramar – with dual runways and room to expand – used the analysis to boost their cause.

Authority board member William D. Lynch said the study “confirms what we have thought all along.” Miramar, he said, is the only site that will work.

But the military has shown no willingness to share Miramar or any other base, saying that five rounds of Pentagon base closures have affirmed the region’s base structure. Airport authority officials say they would compensate the military for building an airport on a base.

Spurred by U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-El Cajon, Congress is moving to back up the military. The House of Representatives approved a $512 billion Pentagon spending bill last week that included a prohibition of shared use. The bill is being debated in the Senate.

The analysis does not outline how the authority might obtain the military land it proposes to use, and a Navy spokeswoman said the voluminous analysis doesn’t change the military’s objections.

Bowens defended the study at a Tuesday press conference, calling it money well-spent. She dismissed questions about the House provision as “irrelevant,” saying it was a policy issue for the authority’s board to consider.

The authority’s board is expected to make a decision on a site when it meets June 5. Voters go to the polls Nov. 7 to approve or reject the choice.

Several board members contacted for comment said they were still digesting the voluminous report, which was released to the media Tuesday.

A look at the three sites’ analysis:

Miramar

Though military and commercial aircraft share airports in Honolulu and Yuma, Ariz., none has operations as complex as what’s proposed at Miramar, said Gregory R. Wellman, vice president of Ricondo & Associates, the authority’s Chicago-based technical consultant.

F-18 pilots practicing their aircraft carrier landings would be forced to fly a mile south of the base over Clairemont Mesa, Kearny Mesa and Tierrasanta, subjecting more than 18,000 people to noise above 65 decibels, the Federal Aviation Administration’s noise threshold. Beyond that, studies show continual exposure to aircraft noise poses a health risk.

Noise would impact about 14,000 people more than the base’s current operations. The analysis says 10,765 homes would be affected. That figure exceeds the criteria used to exclude other sites from consideration during the site-selection process.

But if the F-18 training was shifted elsewhere, aircraft noise would impact less than 10 residents, Wellman said.

Under the Miramar concept, two 12,000-foot runways – separated by a terminal – would be built south of the base’s existing runways. Both would overlap Interstate 15 near its intersection with Highway 163, causing about five miles of Interstate 15 to be shifted east. That’s estimated to cost about $650 million.

Turning Miramar Road into a six- to eight-lane freeway would cost another $180 million, according to the analysis.

The analysis doesn’t forecast any growth near the base. Airport-related businesses, it says, would occur primarily through redevelopment of existing commercial and industrial land nearby.

The total price tag: $6.9 billion to $7.7 billion. That includes $900 million to $1.7 billion mitigate its impacts to sensitive sage scrublands, wetlands and vernal pools.

Camp Pendleton

A dual-runway airport built along the southwestern edge of the sprawling 125,000-acre base would require $120 million in improvements to nearby Interstate 5 and Highways 78 and 76. An elevated roadway connecting the airport to the interstate would cost approximately $1.1 billion.

The airport would not be a joint-use airport in the same sense as Miramar. Commercial airlines would primarily use it, though the military could use the runways if they wanted, said Angela Shafer-Payne, the airport authority’s vice president of strategic planning.

As with Miramar, the analysis projects that little growth would be spurred by the airport’s location. Airport-related businesses would occur primarily through redevelopment of existing commercial and industrial areas, the study says.

Noise would be less of an issue than at Miramar or North Island/Lindbergh. About 4,000 people in 1,400 homes would be affected, the analysis concludes.

The price tag at Camp Pendleton: $7.1 billion to $8 billion. That includes potential environmental mitigation costs between $800 million and $1.7 billion.

North Island

Commercial flights would be divided evenly between Lindbergh and North Island. The terminals would be connected with an estimated $2.1-billion tunnel under San Diego Bay.

The construction required at North Island would wipe away much of the base’s existing infrastructure. So much work would be needed that maintaining military operations at the base during construction would be “challenging,” the study says.

So would compliance with Federal Aviation Administration standards that require airports to be able to cope with crosswinds – which blow from wing-to-wing – 95 percent of the time. When periodic Santa Ana winds whip through San Diego, takeoffs and landings would have to be staggered so incoming airplanes wouldn’t collide with outgoing flights.

That would create delays as often as 15 percent of the year, or about 54 days. Wellman, the authority consultant, called that “a major issue from an aeronautical standpoint.”

And the concept at Coronado would be the only that leaves no room to expand in the future – the current problem at Lindbergh Field.

The total price tag: $8.7 billion to $8.9 billion, which is the most expensive of the three military options.

Please contact Rob Davis directly at

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