County facing competiton on cargo airport

March 15, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL, Staff Writer

A cargo airport in Imperial County is a sexy project, according to Orlando Foote, chairman of Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp.

But this attractive project might have competition from March Air Force Base in Riverside County, Foote said.

March AFB was downsized to an air reserve base in 1996 and some there want to turn it into an international cargo airport.

El Toro Marine Corps Air Station in Orange County was another possible competitor for air cargo, but the project was voted down by local residents in the March 5 election.

If residents near March AFB feel the same as residents near the El Toro MCAS, Imperial County looks like a good bet.


Foote and IVEDC Executive Director Louis Fuentes traveled with San Diego's former Brown Field cargo airport backer Pat Shea to meet with Lee Fisher Associates of San Mateo to talk about an air cargo study.

"We got a tremendous amount of information," Foote said. "These guys have done about 150 major airport projects and air traffic studies."

They said Imperial County's main competition is March Field, although March seems to be having trouble attracting investors, he said.

Their advice was to determine what the potential use is before $500,000 is invested in a study, Foote said.

Shippers have to be here for this to be a viable market. Something that's going to hurt the Imperial Valley is the absence of a direct rail link to San Diego, he said.

Foote said he and Fuentes will be meeting soon with the chairman of the San Diego Port Authority, who is interested in reopening the railroad line between San Diego and Imperial County.

"We expect to approach the county and the Imperial Irrigation District for money to front-end the study," he said.

Foote said the planners posed another question — should the Imperial Valley be looking at this project from the beginning as air cargo only, or air cargo and passenger?

Fuentes said investors should consider what needs to happen to make a cargo airport possible.

County Supervisor Hank Kuiper discussed a cargo airport at a San Diego Association of Governments meeting last week.

Kuiper said people in San Diego are interested in the possibility of air cargo in the Imperial Valley and if a high-speed railroad, as envisioned by Rep. Bob Filner, D-San Diego, comes to fruition, it's more than feasible.

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

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