Truckee Tahoe Airport District candidate Q&A: Connie Stevens, Mary Hetherington, Tom Van Berkem and Kathleen Eagan | SierraSun.com

Truckee Tahoe Airport District candidate Q&A: Connie Stevens, Mary Hetherington, Tom Van Berkem and Kathleen Eagan

Sierra Sun staff

Read the question and answer session with Truckee Tahoe Airport District candidates Connie Stevens, Mary Hetherington, Tom Van Berkem and Kathleen Eagan below.

Van Berkem: The airport advisory group (ACAT) which I have chaired the last three-plus years is currently exploring alternative runway use and various approaches to and from the airport that could reduce the number of homes adversely impacted by aircraft. A recommendation to the board is in development. We are also considering obtaining technology that will help the airport identify compliance with our voluntary curfew and noise abatement procedures and allow for accuracy in incentive programs to the pilots who follow them. We have reduced annoyance from over half the operations at the airport with our training plane and glider tow plane equipment modifications. More planes could be modified.Stevens: As a pilot I understand the variations of noise within the aircraft and most importantly the noise that is delivered to residents below. I co-chaired the Airport Noise Action Committee from 2000 to 2004. My focus has been and remains the safety of flight and just as important, the safety of those on the ground. With safe flight priority determinations by the BOD, the community can rest assured that every effort is made and will continue toward pilot awareness for the airport surrounding communities and their residents. It is essential that these efforts continue that began in 2000. Efforts to meet, discuss, and resolve aviation and community issues surrounding the TTAD must remain in forward motion. Keep in mind that there are ways to assist our local aircraft in reducing engine noise during climb out and that every day technology brings us closer to quieter engines. Eagan: We have done several things to reduce noise impacts. For example, we have researched and helped finance noise reducing modifications to glider tow planes and a training plane. These planes account for almost one-fifth of our total operations. We provide incentives to local pilots to honor our curfew and avoid flying at night. We actively promote our noise abatement procedures to visiting pilots. As jets generally result in four times as many complaints as piston aircraft, we are working directly with jet operators to find ways to modify their operations to reduce noise over residential areas. I also want to develop a working relationship with our high-end resort communities and hotels to help us inform their clientele of ways to fly friendly and keep the mountain town character of our region. I do not support any action that will allow larger jet aircraft to use our airport. Hetherington: Our airport is at the forefront of delving into the question of noise impacts and looking for ways to reduce those impacts. These are not just local issues; they are being discussed in national and international venues. Our board is very proactive in analyzing and then pursuing reasonable options that reduce noise impacts. The huge cultural shift at the airport is that we as a board are willing to ask questions and consider new solutions. Some examples include the use of incentives to hangar tenants who honor a night curfew and facilitating the purchase of different equipment that has a smaller noise footprint. We met with a corporate jet operator to evaluate patterns and see if there are alternatives; we plan to continue this dialog. Lastly, the ACAT continues to look at technological improvements.

Van Berkem: I have lead more than a dozen community meetings with the residents of all our impacted neighborhoods as well as with the pilots that use our airport. Ideas such as bringing back the air show, community bar dances in a hanger, and increased uses of the meeting space show promise. Increased use of the terminal as a transportation hub and shuttle stop for the Reno airport are areas to explore. Increased presence of forest fire-fighting and life-saving equipment is another opportunity.Stevens: Since the BODs primary obligation to district voters is to set policy, I would suggest reviewing for comparison both past and existing policies while comparing past, recent, and future surveys of district voters, property owners, and residents. One such policy was to promote aviation. A recent survey confirmed the air show was the most popular request by the majority of participants. An annual air show was enjoyed by the community for decades. It was professionally managed and well-received by all. And it is time to return the air show to our community as the celebration it was and is for our community, the children, and their families. Fun, excitement, retail sales and room rentals for local businesses all represent healthy result for everyone.Eagan: We have a high-quality airport that meets the needs of the vast majority of local pilots as well as those who fly to our region. When compared to other general aviation airports, our facility and staff is truly outstanding. In the last four years, the primary area where the airport has become a greater asset to the community is by becoming more responsive to a broader constituency than local and visiting pilots alone. Our airport now acts as a willing partner in the preservation of open space, works with sister agencies to achieve mutually beneficial goals, helps with funding and administration of regional public transportation and is committed to using its taxpayer dollars prudently. Through our discussions, district-wide surveys and workshops, we will continue to explore ways to broaden the reach of benefits the airport can help provide.Hetherington: The airport is one piece of the infrastructure that serves the community and, being a civil engineer, Im partial to infrastructure. I believe that good infrastructure (sewer, water, electricity, transportation, etc.) is the basis on which a community exists. We have transformed our interactions with fellow agencies and I want to continue with those positive relationships. We all serve the public and we need to make the best use of taxpayer dollars. On the large scale, we developed a new mission statement: The Truckee Tahoe Airport is a community airport that provides high quality aviation facilities to meet local needs and one that strives for low impact on our neighbors while enhancing the benefit to the community-at-large. On the small scale, we allow many nonprofits to use our boardroom at no cost and we provide indoor space for the Little League batting cages.

Van Berkem: Absolutely, if there is logic in the acquisition. The ability to prevent new development, like was done for Waddle Ranch, avoids creating new homes that would be adversely impacted. Providing more open space for all taxpayers and visitors to use only increases the contribution the airport makes to the community.Stevens: Absolutely, I have always supported open space acquisitions for the district. Providing buffers for airport activities is no different than any other districts need to protect its community from negative perspectives like aircraft engine noise. This is only one of several ways to assure the airports continued participation in the federal transportation system.Another benefit, of course, is preserving some part of the natural landscape for future generations.Eagan: Yes, I support airport involvement in preserving open space on lands that are close to the airport and affected by aircraft noise. Our district-wide survey has told us that preservation of undeveloped land as open space is strongly supported by pilots, businesses, lake-side residents and Martis Valley residents alike. Just as important, it also protects our airport from future conflict and expense over noise and annoyance. Dealing with these conflicts is an issue facing many, many general aviation airports across our country. The downside of owning open land is the cost to manage that land for forest health and wildfire mitigation. When we made the Waddle Ranch acquisition, we factored these management costs into our decision. If another opportunity arises for the airport to help preserve open space, my decision will again consider cost concerns, community interest and careful consideration of our airports ongoing obligation for fire and forest management. Hetherington: I support open space acquisition by the airport if there is an appropriate nexus. We must always be cognizant, though, of the fact that there is a cost of managing that open space and factor that into our decision-making process. In the case of Waddle Ranch and the Ponderosa Golf Course, preventing the construction of additional homes within such a close radius of the airport made those acquisitions very beneficial to the airport users. It also keeps these areas available for recreational use by the general public, both locals and visitors, and it retains valuable habitat for wildlife.

Van Berkem: I have to study this further. There are liabilities such sales create and we must protect the taxpayers from this risk. I also want to under stand the full use of these credits and be assured they do not just allow someone else to pollute.Stevens: The acquisition of 1,500 acres is one serious action toward preservation. The TTAD financial commitment of $3 million is another. This investment represents 12.76 percent of the $23.5 million purchase price. Now, what to do with the sequestration rights? And further, how to manage a forest? This represents an economic policy shift in the district that will require more information and perhaps even redefining the TTAD policies further. There are ethical and financial questions for this consideration. While on the surface, all appears to be in order, yet, what will be the result of this sale? Will we in fact be awarding permission for more development that removes other forests? Many experts sense that there is much to learn and learn we should about a newborn concept for the TTAD.Going green is a great idea. The question here: What shade of green is reasonable and responsible for the TTAD?Eagan: Theres more to this question than meets the eye! The current debate we read about in the newspaper asks whether selling carbon credits will encourage a net increase in carbon being sequestered or just provide an escape route for carbon producing businesses. I dont know if anyone truly knows the answer to that question as the practice of selling forest carbon credits is relatively new. I have not yet made a decision on whether I support selling carbon credits from Waddle Ranch. To me, the issue for the airport is whether the financial benefit of recovering forest management and some land acquisition costs will outweigh the costs and risks of entering this new and untested market. Airport staff is currently working on analyzing this question and the forest inventory is an important part of their analysis. Selling forest carbon credits is a complex issue that requires careful, careful thought.Hetherington: The District was the first entity to commit funds to purchase Waddle Ranch and we agreed to be the eventual landholder. We understood that we would need to develop and implement a Forest Management Plan to be good stewards of that land. We are inventorying the amount of carbon on that property as a part of that plan. I supported all these actions. Im familiar with the methodology used in emission reduction credits for criteria pollutants. In many regions, these offsets have helped to clean up the air. However, the carbon market is still in its infancy in the United States and governmental regulations are being developed. Because of the many unknowns (pricing, length of commitment, management requirements), our staff is investigating options and we expect a report in the near future. It may prove beneficial to hold, rather than sell, the credits because they may be more valuable in the future.

Van Berkem: I have had many years of experience in my day jobs were I have had to help parties or groups locked in conflict find common ground and resolution to their issues. I have worked with both pilots and non-pilots in my community advisory (ACAT) role at the Truckee Tahoe Airport role over the last four years. I believe they would both say I have an open mind, good judgment, and a fair approach to the issues. Stevens: As the only pilot, aircraft owner, and Tahoe resident applying for this position, my election to this BOD will provide a balance of representation for the district. I have contributed to the Truckee/Tahoe communities through founding Wildlife Shelter, Inc. and have continued this dedication for 20 years with district volunteers and interns. I own and operate a local business with my husband. Thirty three percent of our family resides in Truckee. I am a Charter member and former officer of Truckees EAA Chapter and a AOPA, Civil Air Patrol, Ninety-nine (Women Pilots), and Angel Flight member. My interest in furthering aviation knowledge and experience for our community of students while remaining a good neighbor is paramount. I was honored by Tahoe City Rotary with the Paul Harris Award. My advanced mediation certificate and MBA graduate work provides the balance of business, finance, and aviation for the TTAD. Please, vote for balance.Eagan: I strongly believe that solutions can be reached by bringing different groups together to jointly work through issues and problems. Three years ago we formed the Airport Community Advisory Team (ACAT) to bring pilots and community members together to work on reducing noise and annoyance. Im inspired by the creative ideas that have come out of this group. They have jointly found ways to meet each others needs. I also support continuing the kind of active outreach we have initiated. This includes conducting a second statistically-valid survey of residents, businesses and pilots to understand their perceptions, needs and desires for the airport and to find common ground. I also support expanding the various community forums we have conducted both in the Martis Valley, at the lake and among pilots. Seeking to understand the interests of all groups is essential to effective representation. Hetherington: My track record, along with the other board members, shows that we are working as a team to represent the entire community. That is not to say we always agree, but I do believe in the essence of democracy and the fact that we all share this geographical space. It behooves all of us to work together to strive to make decisions that are in the best interest of our entire region, including the Martis Valley and Lake Tahoe. Four years ago, many pilots were concerned that there could be radical changes at this airport, yet now I hear from pilots that they want our board to keep moving forward with its positive actions. This is a radical change in outlook and I suggest that it speaks volumes about our representation.