Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Supervisors give direction on Lampson Airport plans

LAKEPORT – The future of Lampson Airport and the status of projects to develop it was the subject of a lengthy Board of Supervisors discussion last week.


The item was part of the afternoon session at the board's Oct. 6 meeting.


Public Works Director Brent Siemer presented to the board a status report on the airport, which has an annual budget of $71,400. Of that amount, the county usually gets $10,000 from the state, but that was wiped out this year and now is being picked up by the county's general fund, for a total general fund contribution of $60,400.


The airport also takes in $11,000 in rents and leases, said Siemer. Both of the airport's 25-year leases expired this year, and one of the companies hasn't renewed.


A recent appraisal revealed that the county needs to raise its leases significant, which Siemer said will be unexpected new income for the county.


The airport has several potential revenue sources, including a $150,000 annual federal grant that can be rolled over for three years, plus $750,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration for a high priority project that was gained through the efforts of Congressman Mike Thompson. Siemer said those funds are earmarked toward wastewater improvements to the airport.


That funding would become the source of considerable concern during the meeting, as the funding's window of opportunity may be expiring this year.


Siemer suggested projects including developing a fueling facility that could quickly pay for itself, as well as the construction of 20 T-hangars which also would repay the county.


He also said that if the county hired an aggressive full-time airport manager the airport could become self-sustaining.


The airport also has drawn the interest of the US Forest Service, which wants to use a quarter of the county's airport property to store helicopters. Siemer said the Lampson location is considered preferable to Ukiah, where helicopters get fogged in a lot.


Siemer said he is working with the Community Development Department to put together federal and state environmental documents to further develop the property.


Supervisor Anthony Farrington, in whose district the airport is located, was none too pleased with Siemer's report or his suggestions for the airport.


In particular, there was no mention in the plan of completing a wastewater transmission line from Lampson to the city of Lakeport. The agreement for that line, which Farrington worked on several years ago, took two years to complete.


Farrington wanted to know why the transmission line wasn't in the report.


“Because I need to know when do I get a toilet to flush,” said Siemer, who said there wasn't a need for that expanded sewer capacity now, and constructing the lines only to let them be unused would be expensive.


Farrington said there was a “disconnect” between the board's wishes and what Public Works was suggesting.


“This is a shift in policy that isn't consistent with this board's position and direction and the direction that was given to your predecessor,” Farrington said, referring to retired Public Works Director Jerry Shaul.


He was further concerned because he received information from Thompson's office that the $750,000 was at risk of being lost if it isn't used. The county had put aside additional money that, with the grant, totaled about $1.1 million for airport projects.


Farrington said the wastewater transmission line agreement called for hooking Lampson into the city's system, and in turn the county would upgrade a city pump station.


He said he was additionally “disturbed” that that Public Works was only now getting to the environmental documents after six or seven years.


“There's so many issues it's hard to stay focused,” said a clearly frustrated Farrington.


Farrington said there have been developers interested in working with the county to develop the property, some of which were stonewalled, which he said may stretch back to before Siemer's arrival.


“There's a lot of problems with what's before us as a body,” Farrington said of Siemer's status report. “I think there is a lot of miscommunication that's going on.”


Farrington said the county also doesn't need to acquire any more property at the airport.


But he remained focused on Siemer's suggestion that the county abandon plans for the wastewater transmission line and look instead at an onsite facility. “In fact I'm really dumbfounded that we're even considering that.”


Siemer responded by trying to address Farrington's multiple concernss, saying they were close to having enough money to build the transmission line, which the general fund will have to maintain. He said the project doesn't meet the FAA's guidelines for use of the funds.


He said if he makes the transmission line his main priority, it will be time consuming and he won't be able to work on other parts of the airport plan.


Siemer said he was working as fast as he could on the plan in answering Farrington's concerns about the environmental documents. Farrington pointed out he had been with the county for about a year and a half.


Farrington said he wanted to hear the other board members' thoughts on the airport's status.


“If we can't even build a sewer line I'm struggling to see us fully develop fuel facilities and hangars on our 14.5 acres,” he said, adding that he's baffled that the Basin 2000 project – which hooked up facilities around the county in order to transport wastewater to The Geysers – could be done in less time than it took to begin the airport sewer line.


Supervisor Rob Brown asked what was the time frame for the funds. Farrington said Thompson's office had suggested the deadline to use the money may be this year.


Brown agreed that the environmental documents should have been under way a long time ago, since they would be required regardless of what the county chooses to do at the facility.


Supervisor Jim Comstock asked Siemer about the potential cost of a self-contained wastewater system versus connecting to the city. Siemer said it could be a few hundred thousand dollars to try to do something on site. However, he said that option doesn't work well, since the property doesn't perk.


“For my part, I wish we had a better airport here, for a lot of reasons,” said Board Chair Denise Rushing. “But it seems like right now is the worst economic time to try to make it happen.”


Rushing said there's a risk involved in developing the facility, and she didn't know if it was a good idea to move forward. “These are pretty difficult times to try to make something big happen,” and if it's done it needs to be done right, she said.


Referring to the agreement with the city of Lakeport, Farrington read a paragraph that said, in part, “The county recognizes a health hazard exists,” thus the impetus for the transmission line.


Airmen indicate interest in building hangars


During the discussion, County Administrative Officer Kelly Cox said concerns about using the FAA funds for the transmission line is one of the reasons it hasn't been built yet.


Cox said he seriously doubted the FAA was going to let the county use the funds to build a transmission line that might not be used.


He said the county had set aside money in its budget for the sewer line in hopes of seeing an industrial park develop with the resulting jobs.


If they can't use the federal funding, Cox said at some point the county will need to forgo the money and look elsewhere.


During public comment, Damon Trimble of the Lake County Airmens Association said the group had approached Shaul about a dozen years ago to offer to fully fund and build 12 hangars.


“To say we were stonewalled, you're being very polite,” he said.


Trimble said the group was interested in partnering to develop the hangars, at no cost to the county. “We would like to just make sure that you folks are aware that we're ready, willing and able to work with you to develop those dozen hangars, two dozen hangars, whatever the right number is.”


The county can then take the leases for the hangars and use it to build another row of them, Trimble said.


He explained that the airport has many needs, including a new north-south runway, which would allow for better instrument approaches.


“That's a big ticket item, obviously,” he said. “A new runway is almost cheaper than adding length onto our current runway.”


Trimble said the airport is not a revenue generator, but is a public service to bring people into the county. He said the airmen want to make sure it's a break-even proposition.


Farrington asked his fellow board members for support on continuing to develop the environmental documents needed to develop the airport, moving forward on the transmission line construction and beginning the process of forming a community services district. He also wanted to follow up with Thompson's office about the federal funds. The goal is a full-service airport.


In addition, Farrington wanted to direct staff to begin a dialogue with the airmen and any other interested parties about creating a vision to develop the 14.5-acre parcel the county owns at the airport.


The board, by consensus, agreed to Farrington's suggestions, which Siemer took as direction.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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