Editorial: The first thing to do to stop the
Published: November 30, 2012
IN 2006, after a series of fatal
accidents involving airliners running off the ends of runways,
Congress and the President set new standards for runway safety,
requiring every airport in the nation that handles commercial
flights to have a safety zone for planes which land short, fail
to stop in time, or have to abort a takeoff. The deadline for
compliance is Dec. 2015.
For airports with plenty of land around them, such as Denver and Dulles, providing the overrun space is no problem. But many others have a lot of difficulty complying because they’re in constricted locations — and one of those is our very own Monterey Peninsula Airport, which sits on top of a mesa, with steep dropoffs at both ends of the main runway. At the Monterey airport, building up the ground to provide overrun space would be hugely expensive and devastating to existing development near the airport, such as Tarpy’s Restaurant and the Monterey Pines Golf Course.
Fortunately, there’s a method to bring planes safely to a stop in much shorter distances by installing crushable concrete pads that slow a plane’s landing gear. Given the restrictions of its site, Monterey airport officials had no choice but to embrace the crushable pads solution, and they applied to the FAA for permission to go with it. In Aug. 2010, the FAA gave the OK, and even found that Monterey’s modest runway extension project was in full compliance with federal environmental protection laws, which meant everything was on track for construction to get started in the fall of 2011.
But that’s when the airport safety project — required by the federal government — ran into the buzzsaw that is California’s Environmental Quality Act, which was written for the advantage of extremists and activists, of which the Monterey Peninsula has more than its fair share.
If the same project had been proposed for Fresno or Bakersfield, it would have sailed through the local permit process. But here, a group of nonsensical boneheads calling itself the Highway 68 Coalition has gone to court repeatedly to stop the airport safety improvement project, claiming all sorts of ridiculous grounds. A very gullible Monterey County judge, Lydia Villarreal, has gone along with their crazy schemes, and even awarded them almost a half-million dollars in attorneys’ fees.
While the episode is just the latest in a long series of CEQA offenses to the common weal, the Highway 68 Coalition’s latest objection is worth a close look, because it raises one of the very aspects of CEQA that cries out for reform, and which even the most diehard Democrats in the state legislature should be willing to support.
Along with the installation of crushable overrun pads at Monterey airport, the project involves construction of an access road for emergency vehicles from Highway 68 to the east end of the runway.
In the fantasy world of local activists, that road is part of a secret plan by the airport to develop a large parcel of land on the north side of the runway complex with housing or commercial buildings, and they demand that the latest version of the airport safety project EIR be expanded to analyze the possible environmental impacts of the secret development plan.
First of all, airport officials say no such plan exists — a statement which obviously should dispose of the issue at the outset. More importantly, if such a plan exists, every part of it would have to be examined in an EIR that would be done as part of its permit process. There is no reason whatsoever for the EIR for the runway project to include it.
Are you listening, legislators? Important public projects should not be held up because of fantasies about future devlopment projects, which can have their environmental impacts taken care of when and if they are actually proposed. EIRs should be limited to truly significant environmental impacts, and especially to ones which are part of the project at hand.