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Airpark master plan, Program EIR approved

Ten years after the San Diego County Board of Supervisors applied for Federal grant funding for a master plan study of Fallbrook Community Airpark, the supervisors approved the master plan along with the Program Environmental Impact Report.

The supervisors’ 4-0 vote September 24, with Supervisor Pam Slater-Price in Washington, also adopted the mitigation monitoring and reporting program for the airpark and authorized the director of the county’s Department of Public Works or his designee to apply for Federal Aviation Administration and State Division of Aeronautics grants to complete the projects identified in the master plan.

“That was a good thing. It clears the way now for us to move ahead,” said Pete Drinkwater, the county’s Airports Director.

The county took over operation of Fallbrook Community Airpark in November 1997 and subsequently began work with Federal Aviation Administration officials on a plan to enhance operations and safety at the airport.

In April 1998 the supervisors voted to apply for and accept an FAA grant for the master plan study, and in May 2001 the supervisors approved the application and acceptance of state grant funding for the study.

In September 2002 the supervisors approved a consultant agreement for the master plan study.

The study required a Program EIR and also involved coordination with the FAA as well as with County Airports and the Fallbrook Airpark Advisory Committee. In January 2006 the FAA approved an airport layout plan for Fallbrook Community Airpark.

The master plan outlines recommended improvements for the airpark through 2025 based on aviation demand forecasts and current FAA standards. Implementing the recommendations will require FAA approval, funding availability, and completion of project-specific environmental studies.

Phase 1 projects identified in the master plan include a transient aircraft parking apron, a taxiway, a terminal building, obstruction removal (which would eliminate the observation area), road reconstruction, runway-taxiway coordination, and aircraft tie-downs.

“This did open the door now for us to move ahead with the design and work necessary to get contracts in place,” Drinkwater said. “The next step is to get our design in order.”

County Airports will apply for the grants when the design specifications for projects are more complete, allowing for better estimates and more specifics and thus increasing the chance for successful grant applications.

The supervisors’ approval of the master plan, however, can be seen as a sign of commitment.

“We have a direction and we have a confirmed plan,” Drinkwater said. “The FAA is clearly aware of our commitment to those programs.”

The Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program provides grants which fund up to 95 percent of qualified airport improvement projects. Although the grants are competitive, the FAA allocates a certain amount for each class of airports in each FAA region.

The State Division of Aeronautics has a California Aid to Airports Program which offers grants of up to five percent of the FAA award when the state budget allows; since 5 percent of 95 percent is 4.75 percent the county would only be responsible for 0.25 percent of a project’s cost if full Federal and state grant money is awarded.

The county’s contributions are provided through the Airport Enterprise Fund derived from rent collected from businesses leasing airport land.

Approval of the Program EIR allows the master plan to be approved, although specific projects will need separate environmental statements.

The information in the Program EIR may be incorporated into those project-specific environmental documents, so a Negative Declaration or Mitigated Negative Declaration rather than a full Environmental Impact Report may suffice for some of those projects.

The first project will look at the overall design of the entire project package to integrate the taxiway ramp and the airport manager’s building and engineer the elevation of the runway and taxiway.

The results will determine whether lowering the runway or raising the taxiway would be more feasible to align the elevations.

“Things are all interrelated, connected, and when you do your design you have to be cognizant of all these things,” Drinkwater said. “There’s an order to this.”

Appropriate community input will also be incorporated into the specific projects. “We’ll have to present options back to our advisory committee,” Drinkwater said.

The Fallbrook Airpark Advisory Committee had been briefed of updates to the master plan. On August 11, 2008, the advisory committee recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the master plan and authorize the application for the Federal and state grants.

Fallbrook Community Airpark totals approximately 290 acres. Aviation uses comprise approximately 33 acres on the northwest portion of the property. The southeast end of the airpark provides approximately 25 acres of active recreational use.

Approximately 54 acres of avocado groves provide a visual buffer for the airpark from South Mission Road, and a nursery on the southern portion of the airpark extends to adjacent off-site land.

Undeveloped areas include coastal sage scrub, mulefat scrub, southern willow scrub, eucalyptus woodland, non-native grasslands, vineyards and orchards, and disturbed habitat.

Approval of the master plan does not commit the county to constructing any facilities, and when grants are awarded County Airports staff will return to the Board of Supervisors for approval of the proposed projects.

“There’s excitement and lots more work to be done, but this is a step in the right direction,” Drinkwater said. “It’s a milestone for Fallbrook and it’s a testament to the advisory committee.”

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