Residents up in arms over airport

Linda Garmong is ready to fight the undeclared war she says is brewing over Minden-Tahoe Airport.

"It's them against a lot of people in the community," said the Johnson Lane resident. "I know what kind of task we're up against. It might be a one-man campaign, but I will surely let people know what they're up to."

Minden-Tahoe airport users and administrators, on the other hand, are surprised that a plan to review the relationship between airplane size and noise has made them the lightning rod for accusations about clandestine plans to turn the airport into Douglas County's answer to Reno-Tahoe Airport.

"I think a lot of it is more fear than anything else," County Manager Dan Holler said. "We haven't really had a lot of outcry besides the group in Johnson Lane. I think the question that has come up is, 'Why?' We need to spend some time to answer that question."

Discussion about the airport started as a suggestion by the Minden-Tahoe Airport Advisory Board to review the relationship between airplane weights and sizes.

The airport doesn't get general fund money, but administrators have been told to enhance the facility's self-sufficiency when possible.

One way to do that is by collecting the fees and taxes generated by planes that are based at the airport or by attracting more aviation-related business.

The county now has a voter-imposed weight limit of 50,000 pounds for multi-wheeled planes, with lower limits for other types of aircraft. The intent of the rule was to avoid noise, pollution and other problems associated with larger planes.

The airport advisory board members suggested a review because larger planes aren't necessarily the noisiest, and aviation promoters thought the ordinance may be costing Minden-Tahoe business fromplanes that don't bring the undesired impacts.

Airport Manager Jim Braswell had been speaking to local service clubs and groups about the airport, and the responses he got indicated that noise, not plane size, was the chief concern.

A temporary committee was formed in January and met three times before deciding in the face of vocal opposition that a long-term business plan is really what the airport needs.

Some of the opposition came from Garmong, who says she worries that a change in the weight ordinance will mean bigger planes and increased danger for the Johnson Lane area and other neighborhoods under the airport's flight patterns.

"I'm not against aviation but I want them to do it safely," said Garmong, who notes she's logged 4,800 hours of flight time herself. "Things have happened, and that's what scares me. I don't have any concern with the noise."

She says she has witnessed near-misses between planes using the airport.

Others worry that Minden-Tahoe will chanage into a commercial port with large jets coming and going at all hours or that a change will undermine local control and the airport will be forced to accept large planes, whether wanted or not.

The temporary committee's recommendation has not been formally forwarded to the county commission, which created the group, but administrators are already reacting.

Braswell and Airport Supervisor Trent Moyers hosted an informal meeting Tuesday on friendly flying, suggesting routes that don't take pilots directly over neighborhoods.

Moyers said he hopes for voluntary compliance. Many of the 30 people in attendance agreed with the idea but said local pilots are already doing it.

"The things he's suggesting are close to what's common practice today," said Mike Moore, president of the Minden Soaring Club and a tow pilot and flight instructor for gliders and powered aircraft.

"(Critics) don't notice the 98 percent that go in accord with what he's saying because they don't hear them."

Tim Rowe, who has lived in Douglas County for 15 months, said some noise is inevitable because of the airport's altitude.

"You can be 20 miles away at 4,000 feet and somebody is going to hear it and say, 'That plane is making noise,'" said Rowe, who flies a Learjet - a 15,000-pound plane that he says is one of the noisiest at the airport.

Theresa Annas, a member of the airport advisory committee that originally suggested the review, says the accusations that Minden-Tahoe will become a commercial hub are unfounded.

"We're trying to be a business-friendly community," she said. "They say the sky is falling, but it isn't."

"You won't get a freighter going into Minden," added Rowe. "(Critics) want growth if it doesn't come at a cost."

Garmong said she's asked for proof that the revenue-producing planes actually will settle at Minden-Tahoe if the rules are changed but hasn't gotten it.

"I think they're blowing smoke on that," she said. "I know they want to bring in a lot of business, but I don't know if the people in this county are up to paying that price."

The price - and the potential revenues - should be determined if the long-term business plan suggested by the temporary committee is pursued, soe residents said.

Holler, the county manager, said the plan will have to address the conflict between ordering the airport administration to run a self-sufficient, revenue-producing facility and limiting the planes allowed.

"You can't just turn around and say, 'We're going to ignore this,'" he said. "The plan needs to look at a future five, 10, 20 years down the road, what it's going to look like, and how to achieve it."

Holler doubts Minden-Tahoe will ever resemble Reno-Tahoe.

"The economics aren't there and nobody wants to see that," he said.

But some change, he said, is due.

"We don't have a choice. The airport is going to grow under either option," Holler said. "You can leave the weight limit where it is, and we're still going to grow. You're still going to see an increase in activity."


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