Regional airport options aired

December 06, 2001|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

While residents of San Diego County debate where to build or expand an airport, officials and business leaders in Imperial County think it's more realistic to build one here.

"Basically San Diego needs a new international airport but no one wants one in their neighborhood. Why don't we put San Diego's airport in Imperial Valley?" said U.S. Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, who sits on the house transportation committee.

San Diego's Lindbergh Field is on 474 acres in a densely populated area of the city. It is the smallest major airport in the country with a single 9,400 foot runway, according to San Diego's port authority.

Lindbergh Field served 15.8 million passengers and transported 115,842 tons of cargo in 2000, according to the port authority.

The port estimates San Diego's air service demand is growing at a rate of 3.5 percent annually. The port projects passenger demand to reach 28.6 million by 2020.


"There's no way they are ever going to permit a big airport to be built in San Diego, there's no room," county Supervisor Joe Maruca said.

He pointed to the failure of private developers to turn San Diego's Brown Field into a cargo airport.

Both the San Diego County supervisors and San Diego City Council unanimously opposed turning Brown Field into a cargo airport, in part because of a well-organized group of residents against the project.

There is a regional need for a cargo airport, states a July 2000 letter to the San Diego County Board of Supervisors by District 1 Supervisor Greg Cox. But, the letter states, a Brown Field cargo airport would have negative impacts to an unincorporated area in his district.

The developers of the failed Brown Field cargo airport claimed the project would add $750 million annually in economic benefits to the area, including 11,000 jobs.

"At Brown Field they (developers) had an opportunity that slipped through their fingers because of an oversight in bringing in the community's perspective," Imperial Irrigation District Director Rudy Maldonado said.

A successful plan for a large airport in Imperial County must include input from residents from the beginning, Maldonado said.

Imperial County has the space to do it, said Maruca. It is the only logical place to build an international airport because it won't have a negative impact on residents.

Filner said he is already developing ideas for an airport in the Valley.

A high-speed rail line along Interstate 8 would take passengers from Imperial County to downtown San Diego in less than 20 minutes, he said.

Filner represents the 50th congressional district and does not yet represent the Imperial Valley. If re-elected in November 2002, Imperial County will be in his district because congressional district boundaries were redrawn following the 2000 census.

The county has studied the idea of an international airport before but the project never moved forward because it was too costly.

It's more realistic to concentrate on a cargo airport for now, Maruca said.

The need for a cargo airport exists, Imperial County Community Economic Development Director Ken Hollis said.

A feasibility study to determine if building an international airport in Imperial County makes sense is necessary for the Federal Aviation Administration to take a look at the project. Hollis said any developer, even a private developer, would need to bring such a study to the FAA.

The study would cost at least $200,000, Hollis said. His office is working to get grant money for the study.

"At this time we just want to look at a cargo airport," Hollis said.

Filner said he thinks Imperial County should look at a cargo and passenger airport. One wouldn't necessarily be faster to build than the other.

"Anything (like an airport) is going to be far off," he said, "but the question is — do people have a vision?"

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or

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