AOPA is warning the city of Watsonville, California, that its plans to close Runway 8/26 at the municipal airport (WVI) will likely run afoul of federal agreements and expose the city to liability in the event of an accident.
The city has plans to annex property west of the airport and allow the construction of some 2,400 new homes off the end of the existing crosswind runway. That would put homes so close that the runway couldn't be used safely, so the city would close it.
Local pilots say they need the runway for the times when the wind is blowing to or from the shore (a fairly common occurrence for coastal California) and when fog covers the south end of Runway 2/20.
In a September 15 letter, AOPA pointedly reminded city fathers they had accepted more than $3.7 million in federal grants for the airport, and those grants obligated them to protect the airport from hazardous encroachments.
"AOPA expects, as does the FAA, that the city will honor its part in the contract and protect the airport," wrote Bill Dunn, AOPA vice president of Airports.
AOPA said that parts of the housing development would be inside safety zones recommended by the California Department of Transportation's Bureau of Aviation in its airport land-use planning handbook. "We believe that failure to take the recommendations in the handbook to heart will leave the city open to liability exposure in the unfortunate event of an accident," said Dunn.
He also warned the city it would be taking on additional problems if it allows the development to proceed.
"Once a developer has built, sold, and profited from new homes and moved on, the local government will be left to deal with increased noise complaints that will result from these additional residences," Dunn said. "We believe the much more prudent path to follow is for communities to avoid these incompatible uses up front rather than attempt what is likely to be an unsuccessful resolution later.
"For obvious safety and aviation capacity reasons, we strongly oppose closure of Runway 8/26 to accommodate this project."
September 16, 2004