The California Coastal Commission unanimously awarded a coastal development permit to the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority on Thursday for federally mandated runway improvements at Jack McNamara Field.

Local officials have been at odds with the Coastal Commission over its wetland mitigation requirement, so obtaining a permit for the Runway Safety Area project was a major hoop to jump through, said county Supervisor David Finigan, the airport authority's chairman.

"They were adding conditions up until 8 o'clock yesterday morning and the meeting started at 8:30," Finigan said Friday, referring to the Coastal Commission's meeting in Eureka. "One of those conditions is they decided to change the time periods, the month we could actually work on the ground, from July to October. We said we needed all year long. They said, well come back and try to get an amendment to the coastal development permit."

The authority will still have to acquire land to satisfy the Coastal Commission, which insists on a 4:1 ratio of new wetlands to destroyed wetlands, Finigan said. The authority will also have to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.

The process to obtain a coastal development permit has been complicated due partly to a lawsuit filed in an attempt to prevent the use of lots in the Pacific Shores subdivision as a potential mitigation site, according to an airport authority press release. The airport authority is still in the process of searching for the "best mitigation site," the release stated.

To fulfill the Coastal Commission's wetland mitigation requirement, the airport authority has to create 67 acres of wetland to proceed with the project, which will disturb 17 acres of wetlands.

During Thursday's meeting, the commission brought up Del Norte County's no-net-loss policy, which had previously stopped land acquisition in Pacific Shores by the California Wildlife Conservation Board. Finigan pointed out that there are limited lands available in the county that would be suitable for wetland mitigation, but if the conservation board's purchase of the land would create a mitigation bank for county projects, he would be supportive.

"The only reason we're here today is because the county took that position," he told commissioners. "Otherwise we would have no land to offer you as mitigation. This is the dwindling resource we have and every time we try to do something, they want us to mitigate it by giving (them) more land."

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