Runway project: Airport looking at wetlands to north

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate December 17, 2012 05:58 pm

Airport officials are eyeing the undeveloped Pacific Shores subdivision as a place where wetlands can be enhanced to make up for wetlands affected by their runway safety improvement project.

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously agreed to enter into negotiations with the Border Coast Airport Authority and to sign a willing-seller letter for the sale of roads and other county-owned property in Pacific Shores. The authority’s special assistant, Jeannine Galatioto, also asked for supervisors’ support in case the authority needs to acquire property through the tax-default process.

The authority plans to use the willing-seller letter to obtain an environmental enhancement grant through the California Natural Resources Agency, Galatioto said. The grant would be used to help with habitat and wetland mitigation, she said. 

The airport needs to build out the current runway space by 300 feet by 2015 in case a plane undershoots, overruns or veers off the pavement, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. But to do that, the authority needs a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission.

The commission is currently requiring that the airport replace wetlands disrupted by the project in proportions up to four times more than what the projects affects.

Pacific Shores is a stretch of undeveloped sand dunes north of Crescent City near lakes Earl and Tolowa. Due to environmental concerns, nothing was ever built there except for a few roads. Last spring, the Board of Supervisors consented to allow the airport authority to use county-owned property at Pacific Shores for planning purposes, according to a memo Galitioto sent to supervisors.

“As you are aware and have agreed to previously, Pacific Shores is one of those areas that most of the permitting agencies would like to see us enhance (as a) wetland area,” Galitioto said. “We’re hoping we are successful in applying for this grant, but one of the requirements is that we have a willing-seller letter.”

To qualify for the grant, the letter must list each property specifically, Galitioto said. 

All Pacific Shores roads were included in the willing-seller letter except Tell Boulevard and Kellogg Road, she said. All properties that the county owns were also included, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the authority is asking to buy all of them, Galitioto said. 

“It does mean that we can at least talk about them,” she said. 

Grant awards are typically $350,000, according to Galitioto. The grant application is due Jan. 4, and it’s expected to be awarded in the fall of 2013.

District 5 Supervisor David Finigan pointed out that the county doesn’t pay taxes on its property in the Pacific Shores subdivision.

“There is no net loss,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for a net increase in the economic value.”

The airport authority is still negotiating with the Coastal Commission over the mitigation ratio, according to Finigan and District 4 Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen, both of whom sit on the airport authority board.

Martha McClure, a member of the Coastal Commission and a county supervisor, could not be reached for comment.

The airport project aims to update the existing runway safety area so that it meets federal standards and allows emergency vehicles better access. 

Construction estimates are approximately $10 million, Airport Director Jim Bernard said in September. The authority received a $1.98 million federal grant in September to finish the permitting and design of the runway safety improvements.

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