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Consultants to determine feasibility of cargo airport

June 20, 2002|By LAURA MITCHELL

Staff Writer

Consultants hired by the county and the Imperial Irrigation District are visiting the Imperial Valley this week to begin a feasibility study on building an international cargo airport here.

"The absolute wrong way to look at this is to say, ‘If you build it, they will come,'" said Ken Bukauskas, director of the air cargo line of business for Leigh Fisher Associates of Chantilly, Va.

Shippers have to be in the Valley for it to be a viable market and that's the reason for the feasibility study, Bukauskas said. The study will not pull any punches and the company has no stake in promoting a cargo airport, he said.

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Imperial County politicians and business leaders have been pursuing the idea of a cargo airport since last fall when the Brown Field cargo airport project in San Diego County failed.

A study for the Brown Field project states a cargo airport could bring in 5,000 to 7,000 union-wage jobs.

Four million metric tons of cargo moves through the Southern California region. But the area may see up to 15 million metric tons, according to growth rate projections by the Federal Aviation Administration and air freight companies, Bukauskas said.

Los Angeles International Airport handles 2 million metric tons of air cargo and when it is built out, will be able to double that, he said.

That leaves room for another cargo airport in Southern California.

Emir Pineda, senior associate with Leigh Fisher, said cargo comes into Los Angeles from Asia and is trucked all over the United States. This cargo can come to Imperial County and be shipped to points east, avoiding the congestion in Los Angeles.

Imperial Valley politicians and business leaders hope to woo investors from the failed Brown Field cargo airport project to Imperial County.

Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. Chairman Orlando Foote and Louis Fuentes, its executive director and chief executive officer, have met several times with Pat Shea, investor representative for the Brown Field project.

The Brown Field cargo airport proposal died suddenly when residents of the area where the airport was to expand complained of the additional noise and traffic the expansion would bring.

The San Diego City Council and county Board of Supervisors voted against the project because of the public outcry.

Imperial County does not have the same issues here. There is plenty of room for a cargo airport without building it next to someone's neighborhood, Fuentes said.

But Bukauskas warned there is a lot of competition. Demand and capacity must be balanced.

Bukauskas said Leigh Fisher will be in the area again in two weeks talking to maquiladoras and shippers in Mexicali to find out what their freight movement patterns and projections will be.

Leigh Fisher Associates will return to the Imperial Valley in about six weeks to hold community workshops, he said.

The company hopes to have the study done by the end of September, Bukauskas said.

>> Staff Writer Laura Mitchell can be reached at 337-3452 or lauramitchell9@yahoo.com

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