Friday, December 06, 2013

Wetland threat to airport still unresolved: Napa County (KAPC), California

Napa County and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife remain at loggerheads over whether a wetlands area has been filled in sufficiently to reduce the threat that birds present to planes taking off and landing at the Napa County Airport.

Given the disagreement over facts, the issue may ultimately end up in court if it can’t be resolved through negotiations. This leaves an uncertain future for a leg of the San Francisco Bay Trail, which is planned to connect Napa to American Canyon.

The dispute stems from restoration work Fish and Wildlife performed at an old Cargill salt pond adjacent a Napa County Airport runway, returning the area to wetland habitat. The state bought the land from Cargill as part of a large restoration project spanning thousands of acres of former salt ponds.

That restoration work triggered public safety fears from pilots who fly in and out of the airport. They were concerned that having wetlands so close to a runway would increase the chances that birds could strike their aircraft.

A less bird-friendly safety area — a 7-acre, filled-in upland area near Green Island Road — was proposed.

Napa County Public Works Director Steve Lederer wrote a letter to Fish and Wildlife in October asserting that Fish and Wildlife hadn’t finished the job. The area remained wetlands, the county asserted.

Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham wrote back last week, stating that the department finished that work in the summer of 2008. While the runway safety area isn’t up to Federal Aviation Administration standards, Fish and Wildlife’s letter said the county needed to get easements from the FAA for the reduced standard.

The letter cites a 2010 county email sent to Airport Manager Martin Pehl and the Napa County Park and Open Space District, which said that the runway safety area’s upland elevation would decrease and become wetland over time. The email also said it would be up to the county to do any additional work on the safety area, according to Bonham’s letter.

As such, Fish and Wildlife hasn’t violated its obligations under the an environmental impact report for the restoration project, Bonham wrote. Still, the letter concluded that the department was willing to work on the issue with the county.

Lederer’s letter disputed that Fish and Wildlife had met its requirements.

“We wish to formally request that the Department of Fish and Wildlife do whatever it takes to add sufficient fill to raise the runway safety area to an upland condition,” Lederer wrote. “The new wetland created by your department represents a serious public safety threat to the future operation of the airport that cannot remain unabated.”

Lederer also wrote that the runway safety area is needed to complete the leg of the Bay Trail.


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