By Raymond Bender
On October 10, 2018, the county Board of Supervisors (BOS) adopted a 20-year plan for McClellan-Palomar (Palomar) Airport in Carlsbad and certified an EIR.
A month later, the citizens group Citizens for a Friendly Airport (see c4fa.org) filed suit challenging the county decision. A suit verdict is likely in mid or late 2019. Issues the court may have to wrestle with include:
- Accuracy of County Project Description. In public presentations, county staff repeatedly said the purpose of extending the Palomar runway up to 800 feet was to increase aircraft safety, not to attract more aircraft. Yet several supervisors approving the Palomar Master Plan (PMP) glowingly noted Palomar’s ability to act as a “reliever” airport for overflow Lindbergh traffic.
One question for the court would be: Did the county engage in a “bait and switch” – analyzing low levels of Palomar use in the EIR, while encouraging higher use levels with Lindbergh diversions?
- Accuracy of County’s Greenhouse Gas (GHG) discussions. Both C4FA and the city of Carlsbad noted that the county GHG assumptions and methodology were seriously flawed.
Although county seems to concede that GHG emissions at Palomar will more than double by 2036, the county has found this increase to be environmentally insignificant, a questionable conclusion.
- Accuracy of County Palomar Lead Emissions. A few years ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency found that Palomar lead emissions were excessive. County responded by saying that high lead levels at certain locations were insignificant because such emissions did not threaten workers or the public.
The county failed to analyze, however, how much lead approximately 130,000 annual general aviation (GA) flights for the last twenty years deposited on the Palomar sandy areas – such as the 19 acre area at the Palomar runway east end.
GA aircraft continue to use leaded fuel though such use for autos was eliminated more than twenty years ago due to the harm that lead emissions cause. High wind conditions recirculate dust including lead particles into the air.
This issue is especially important because the harms result from existing and future Palomar operations, not just from a physical runway expansion.
- Accuracy of County Palomar Aesthetic Analysis. El Camino Real (ECR) and Palomar Airport road border Palomar Airport. The Carlsbad General Plan describes these streets as part of the city’s “scenic corridor.” Accordingly, developments along these streets are supposed to include attractive landscaping. Such landscaping also helps moderate air quality problems.
For 30 years, county has claimed that it cannot permanently landscape the Palomar Airport perimeters. County says that its closed airport landfills preclude landscaping. County’s claim is a canard for several reasons.
First, Palomar Airport includes large parcels on both the west and east side of ECR. The Palomar eastern parcel has no landfills. And county has made no attempt to landscape it.
Second, county has failed to substantiate its claim that the Palomar western parcel landfill in fact interferes with planting the slope perimeters.
Third, the county in any event has sufficient area between the Palomar landscape slope ties and the sidewalk to erect an attractive 12-foot “planting” wall with a drip irrigation system. For 30 years, county has instead given the Carlsbad community ugly, weed-infested slopes.
- Accuracy of County Palomar Biological Analysis. At the east end of the Palomar runway, the FAA maintains high intensity runway lighting to guide aircraft to the runway. When the runway is extended up to 800 feet, the lighting will be pushed further east near wildlife vegetated areas on the Palomar east of ECR parcel.
County made no effort to assess the impact of such lighting though the FAA has published studies addressing the issue.
- Accuracy of County Palomar Hazardous Material Discussion. Without any written FAA permission that we have been able to find (despite repeated requests to the FAA and county), county dumped about 900,000 cubic yards of trash in Palomar Airport canyons over a 14-year period.
In the 2000s, county had several Palomar underground fires in distinct landfill units. Though county characterizes the trash as “household” trash, such trash routinely included tens of thousands of batteries from toys, radios, and remote controls as well as household remodeling materials.
About 4 to 7 feet below the Palomar east end sandy Runway Safety Area, county maintains an extensive network of plastic piping to collect methane gas escaping from the landfills.
County failed to assess in its EIR how an aircraft crashing into the Palomar runway east end “safety area” would affect either human safety or the environment. In fact county expressly disavowed its own October 2013 SCS Engineers report claiming that the county had failed to hire a consultant with sufficient expertise to analyze crash hazards.
This issue is especially important because it relates to existing Palomar risks, not simply risks created by a Palomar runway extension.
- Accuracy of County Palomar Alternatives Analysis. County’s PMP and PMP EIR repeatedly said that county would select the project alternative satisfying all 8 of the county-listed alternative evaluation factors. The 8 evaluation criteria were: Safety, Financial Feasibility, Minimal Impact of Airport Business, Accommodation of Existing and Future Demand, Remaining on Airport Property, Environmental Impacts, Offsite Impacts, and Eligibility for FAA Funding.
The alternative the county chose – relocating the runway about 100 feet north and extending it up to 800 feet – creates the greatest safety problems simply because much larger, more fuel-laden, more passenger intensive aircraft increase safety risks.
The alternative is the least financially feasible because it destroys the existing runway and builds a new one, including 800 feet over a landfill which requires extension costs at least 10 times normal due to the unstable landfill soils created by trash filling.
The runway relocation materially impacts existing tenants and users who would not be impacted if the runway remained in place.
The relocation is not needed to accommodate existing or future business because the county itself concedes that it expects to handle 30 percent fewer aircraft than county handled with the existing runway 20 years ago.
Moreover, the relocation requires the FAA to construct about $8.6 million of lighting and navigational on the east side of El Camino Real in an area outside the conditional permit borders that Carlsbad granted to county for airport operation.
The county-selected alternative certainly has the greatest environmental impacts including affecting off site businesses near the end of the relocated runway whose use will be restricted by the San Diego Regional Airport Authority Updated Airport Land Use Compatibility plan.
Lastly, county failed to explain why it would be eligible for FAA Palomar runway extension grants when (i) it appears that county over a 14-year period violated FAA grant conditions by using Palomar for non-airport purposes (dumping trash) and (ii) such dumping has increased runway extension costs more than tenfold by requiring the placing of hundreds of pilings under the runway extension at a depth of 20 to 40 feet.
Could it be that the BOS had already made up its mind – as indicated by the BOS giving 50 minutes of presentation time to project proponents (including county staff) and only 20 minutes to project objectors? But then perhaps projects costing (in 2016 dollars) about $112 million are too minor to take seriously.