Henderson, Hetherington offer airport truth, reason (Opinion)
Jeff Brown and Russell Hamby wrote an op ed for the Oct. 21 edition of the Sierra Sun (“Kat, Mike coalition extends through community”) on behalf of “Friends” of the Truckee Tahoe Airport, an organization that has apparently appeared and disappeared over the years whenever a small number of people believe their personal, private aviation interests are threatened.
This organization blanketed our community with a mailer in support of the two airport board candidates opposing Chris Henderson and Mary Hetherington. The mailer misrepresented and fear-mongered about the positions taken by Chris and Mary and used the logo of the Truckee Dirt Union without its authorization, giving the impression that TDU endorses the opposing candidates, which it has since publicly stated it does not.
Further, the mailer violated California election law because it failed to disclose the source of the money behind it.
This sorry performance was followed by the op ed, which repeated the same misrepresentations and fear mongering. So, let’s set the record straight about why the airport board election matters, why Chris and Mary are running, and why hundreds of Tahoe Truckee leaders and locals have publicly endorsed them.
Less than 10% of us ever use airport services or even visit the airport, according to the airport’s own estimates. Yet each year, the Truckee Tahoe Airport receives millions of dollars from the residents of North Tahoe and Truckee, via our real estate taxes and residential rents that include those taxes.
A 2021 financial study commissioned by the airport showed that our money is used to subsidize commercial operations and make flying more affordable for airport users who do not need our financial help. To put a finer point on this, in 2023, we will send the airport $8 million, about half of which will subsidize below-market rates on services and rents for airport users.
FOTTA would have us believe that these subsidies are justified by the economic benefit the airport generates, but the inflated benefit they claim is derived from a self-serving study commissioned by the airport that used sub-optimal survey methods and makes preposterous assumptions. (Just one example of inflated benefit: the study included as “economic impact” of the airport the salaries of firefighters at the Martis Valley Fire Station, as if the firefighters would not be employed but for the airport.)
And, as Chris and Mary have stated, the mere existence of some amount of economic benefit does not relieve the airport of its responsibility to reduce overflight annoyance and safety impacts by educating and urging pilots to avoid residential areas, and to correct its financial situation so that public money is not subsidizing things it should not.
We need airport board members who require transparent financial statements and adopt business practices that respect our tax investment and use it for community benefit. FOTTA claims that this amounts to “defunding” the airport. This is nonsense. We can both maintain the airport and do more for the community.
Responsible and transparent financial practices do not “starve” and endanger airport safety, as FOTTA has fear-mongered. There is nothing about charging the market-rate for ground services that impacts aircraft safety. Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration sets and enforces airport safety standards and finances virtually all airport safety improvements.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board approximately 80% of aircraft accidents are caused by pilot error, not financial prudence.
FOTTA has disingenuously suggested that Chris and Mary believe that charging market rates for services will reduce airport traffic. This is patently false. They have never publicly said that and, in fact, they have very publicly stated that since we cannot limit commercial traffic, we should at least not have our community make it cheaper for these users by charging below- market fees.
Why does better stewardship of our airport tax dollars matter? Here are just some ideas Chris and Mary have mentioned that we could be doing with the millions of dollars our community sends to the airport each year:
Workforce housing — In order to make a significant dent in this regional challenge strangling local businesses, we need land and money. Our airport has both and could use this to leverage participation by other local districts for meaningful action.
Forest fuels reduction — Our airport should be doing more to nurture and support regional fire prevention programs so we can stop looking for new tax revenue sources to address this issue. FACT: If your Truckee home is assessed at $650k or more, you pay more to the airport each year than you do to fund Measure T fire prevention projects.
Reliable local energy — Vacant airport land could be used for solar arrays, battery storage or biomass facilities that could provide energy to critical local infrastructure.
This can be done without compromising airport operations if we have an airport board with a culture of balancing the needs of the community and local aviation. Chris and Mary have pledged to do that. Let’s elect the two candidates who will ensure that our airport is no longer an aviation country club, but rather a true community resource.
This guest column was submitted by Adam Blond, Darcy Blond, Collin Butcher, Andi Coniglio, John Echols, Zarko Ilic, Keld Laustsen, Margo Laustsen, Karen Moyer, Andy Miller, Jill Mitchell, Marc Pado, Tyler Post, Jesse Quay, Tim Ryan, Natasha Ristanovic, Dietrich Schultz, John Sorenson, Ceila Sutton, Diana Yale, Steve Yale
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