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Airport has long way to go

January 30, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

The fact that Imperial Valley officials are coming together to show interest in a cargo airport is a crucial step, but it is only one step in a long and difficult process.

That was a message from Pat Shea, president of the company that for five years worked on developing the now-defunct Brown Field cargo airport project in San Diego.

On Oct. 1, 2001, the San Diego City Council voted against converting Brown Field in Otay Mesa into a cargo airport.

Shea was asked what it would take to bring a cargo airport to the Imperial Valley.

Imperial Valley officials hope to pick up the pieces of that project and attract the Brown Field investors to a place where there is plenty of land.


On Friday local government and business leaders from throughout the Valley came together to discuss the idea of a cargo airport and start building support for the project.

Shea praised officials for joining forces but added it is going to take an extended joint effort to maintain support for a project that could take at least five years to bring to fruition.

He said one concern is while there may be support for the project now among public officials, such a project could lose support as public officials are replaced with those who may have different visions for the Valley.

For that reason, Shea said, Imperial Valley officials are going to have to consider forming a joint powers authority or some agency as the "jurisdictional leader" for the project.

He said such a body would be made up of authorities from the county, cities and other agencies and its sole purpose would be to work on the airport project.

"You are going to need to create a jurisdictional body that will have a longer life than any office holder in a current jurisdiction," Shea said.

He added, "I don't think you can go anywhere until you do that."

Lanny Foote, an El Centro attorney and chairman of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Commission, said those working on the airport project understand the kind of support necessary for the project. Foote said there would have to be some kind of organized body of Imperial Valley residents whose job it is to focus on the project for an extended period.

"What we are doing is identifying the people in the community that would be most likely to be supportive from both the public and private sectors," Foote said.

He added rather than forming a joint powers authority, such a group could form a nonprofit corporation.

Foote added whoever is in such a group could not be bound to any single government agency.

"There would have to be some kind of separation to avoid the sectional conflicts that have arisen in the past," Foote said.

The objective would be to find people whose commitment to the project would be "meaningful and lasting."

It was a loss of support that led to the death of the Brown Field project.

There was a small group of investors with access to financial resources and knowledge of cargo airports that came together to develop and formed a company, Brown Field Aviation Park LLC. Shea was selected as the president of the company.

Shea said now that the San Diego project has been nixed, the company has disbanded and the investors are no longer a single group focused on any one project.

However, he said the same people who were ready to invest in Brown Field have been made aware of the possible interest of the Imperial Valley. He said interest does exist among the investors in looking at this area.

"It is fair to say they could be interested under the right circumstances," Shea said, adding whatever project that might be considered for the Valley might be different than what was to occur in San Diego.

Shea said the earlier plan was that the city of San Diego and the investors would form a partnership in which they would serve as co-owners of the airport for 50 years. At the end of that period the city would assume total ownership.

He said whatever deal that might happen in the Valley likely would involve some kind of private/public partnership, but Shea said the form would have to be determined later.

Along with organized support for the project, the Imperial Valley is going to have to do an analysis to determine if the project is feasible. He said the analysis would have to be comprehensive enough to determine whether there is a "market attraction" for the project here over other sites in Southern California.

Shea said there could be other venues that might be more attractive than the Imperial Valley, but he said those areas might be unavailable.

Shea added the Brown Field site "was a terrific place to put a cargo airport, but that facility is gone."

He said if another cargo airport project is to be pursued some other community is going to have to have a lasting desire to see the project become a reality.

He added there are "moments in time" when communities have to make choices.

Those in the Imperial Valley who have voiced support for the project said while the San Diego project did not have community backing, they hope the Valley community will choose to come out strongly for the project.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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