By Jennifer Henion
Triplicate staff writer
A new effort to bring Gasquet's Ward Field airstrip into compliance with federal regulations will improve the safety of the airfield, but may compromise the use of nearby private properties.
The first steps will require cutting many trees, moving a playground and prohibiting buildings of more than 15 feet in height within 250 feet of the airstrip.
But future efforts to come into complete compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations require more drastic measures that may cost the county many thousands of dollars in eminent domain buyouts.
Theresa Ledbetter, who recently purchased a lot adjacent to the airstrip, didn't realize the restrictions would impinge on her ability to build a home.
"After carefully reading the FAA regulations for utility runways, we became aware that not only 46 feet of our property lays within a primary surface of the runway, but the access road to our property is on the runway," she said .
The primary airstrip is supposed to be 250 feet wide, but currently it is only about 79 feet wide and bordered by trees, the Valhalla Apartment playground and several property lines.
Building the runway to its full width is first on the county agenda, and trees are being cleared near the airport to make that possible.
There must also be a 250 feet wide buffer zone on either side of the airstrip where building is highly restricted.
Ledbetter said for the county to come into compliance with that width regulation, several previously unaware property owners will lose their trees and the ability to use the land within the buffer.
Dotty Linville, owner of Valhalla Apartments, said she has known about the airspace regulations for quite some time and said she is not worried about the compliance efforts.
"They will probably have to purchase the properties through eminent domain or something, which is fine with me," Linville said.
She said, however, that she knows of several property owners who did not know about the airspace regulations and may be caught unaware.
Ledbetter is currently pushing a lawsuit against the real estate company and seller of the property she bought because they did not disclose information about the airspace restrictions.
She and her husband planned to build a two-story home on the property, but said when they asked the county for a building permit, they were told no because of the current compliance effort.
That surprising bit of news inspired Ledbetter to research all of the FAA rules for small rural airports to see what other implications the property may face in the future as the county checks off their compliance projects.
Ernie Perry, director of the Del Norte County Community Development Department, said the Ledbetters are still able to build a 15-foot tall home on the back end of their property.
This year, the runway will get new striping and next year, Perry said the county is seeking a grant for new fencing.
There are no plans to widen the runway paving, but clear areas on either side of the pavement will be enforced.