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Miramar is top pick for new airport location

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

It's looking more and more like the Miramar Marine Corps Station will be put to a vote as a possible airport site in November. A key committee of the County's Airport Authority voted yesterday to put Miramar on the ballot. The full board will consider that motion at its June 5th meeting. KPBS environment and science reporter Beth Ford Roth has the story.

Authority Strategic Planning Committee member Paul Peterson made the motion to eliminate all other proposed locations and put Miramar on the ballot.

Peterson: You've all heard the expression there's an elephant in the room, or a gorilla in the room, whatever that is, that's what Miramar is, how can you ignore it?

As part of his motion, Peterson said the following language should go on the ballot:

Peterson: Quote: shall San Diego County government officials make every effort to persuade Congress and the military to make available by 2020 3,000 of the approximately 23,000 acres at MCAS Miramar for a commercial airport.

Peterson added three conditions, that military readiness and safety are maintained at no cost to the military, that necessary traffic and transportation improvements are made, and that no tax dollars are used on the airport.

But it's safe to say these conditions won't mollify the fervent opposition of the military to a joint-use airport. Navy Captain Mike Allen spoke harshly about a report conducted by authority consultants that found joint-use at Miramar was feasible.

Allen: The report reflects a lack of basic understanding of our military mission and how we train, worse yet, the analysis reveals a cavalier attitude towards public safety.

Miramar representative Lt. Colonel Duane Pinney says facilities at the base are where they are for a reason, and cannot be moved at will.

But board member William Lynch says he remembers the BRAC process of the mid-1990s when the military first argued there could be no changes at Miramar, and yet soon after the Navy moved its Top Gun school to Nevada and turned the base over to the Marines. Lynch says now it seems the military is phasing out certain aircraft, like the F-18's and that they haven't made a decision on where to put them.

Lynch: And we would like somebody as you figure out where to put them to see if there's somewhere you could put them in a place or put them in a way or do something different like you did after '95 when you moved the F-18's to Lamore, when you moved F-14's to the east and when you moved the Top Gun school.

The motion to put Miramar on the ballot passed on a 3-to-1 vote, with board member Mary Sessom dissenting. Sessom has said repeatedly the airport authority should not be considering Miramar or any other base because of the military's strong opposition.

Sessom and member Xema Jacobson say they are disappointed in Authority consultants' view that expanding Lindbergh isn't a realistic option in the site selection process. Consultants say there are significant terrain constraints on all sides of Lindbergh, limiting its capacity to grow.

Sessom says she wanted more creative, out-of-the-box thinking.

Sessom: If we're looking at keeping Lindbergh on the list we need to try and do everything we can to show to the public that we have seriously considered Lindbergh as an alternative because it is an alternative, and I don't think we've done it with this presentation today.

Consultants say if San Diego does nothing and leaves Lindbergh as it is, it would cost the region tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in economic opportunity. William Lynch says now's the time to end decades of debate over a new airport.

Lynch: We need an airport for the next 100 years, and all these attempts to do something with Lindbergh are attempts that are simply putting a Band-Aid on a problem.

The full Airport Authority Board will meet in two weeks to vote on its selection for a future airport site. Voters will get thier say on the location in November. Beth Ford Roth, KPBS News.

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