Coastal Post Online

April 2001

West Marin Overflight Issue Needs Watching

By Michael McEneany

Communities in Marin and Sonoma Counties need to become organized and more efficient in addressing the daily increasing numbers of low flying, noisy, and polluting commercial aircraft filling our skies. Much of today's traffic is comprised of arrivals and planes being kept in holding patterns awaiting their turn to land at Bay Area airports. While first noticed in only a few locations, this has rapidly become a regional problem with dire consequences for the quality of life and health of Marin and Sonoma residents.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors and the National Park Service, with the help of Representative Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, have sought representation for Marin in decisions affecting the use of its airspace and have urged the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to move some heavily traveled routes and holding patterns away from both populated areas and sensitive wilderness areas. Proposed rerouting would take aircraft offshore over the open ocean and not shift them to other communities.

Marin citizens are also concerned with various proposals to construct new runways at the Bay Area airports, ostensibly to alleviate delays. Besides requiring the filling of San Francisco Bay on a scale unheard of in over sixty years these new runways and the departures from them would be pointed north, up the Bay, directly at Marin and Sonoma Counties. In addition to tolerating ever increasing arrival traffic we would be expected to live with even louder, heavier, and dirtier departure flights overhead. The time has come for Sonoma County to become involved, too.

Whether or not these runway expansion projects are permitted to proceed is up to the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), five of whose twenty-seven members are appointed by the Governor.

BCDC recently retained George Williams, one of the nation's most respected aviation consultants to present a report laying out alternatives to runway construction which would accomplish airport developers' stated goals of reducing flight delays. Williams' conclusions were significant in that they suggest that massive runway expansion is not necessary to achieve this goal. The report also confirmed our fears concerning San Francisco's new runways. If they are built they will adversely impact Marin and Sonoma Counties along with the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Point Reyes National Seashore.

Delays can be avoided with much less costly and environmentally damaging methods. Among those are: (1) the use of available state of the art tracking technology, not now in use at Bay Area airports; (2) common sense rerouting and rescheduling of flight patterns; (3) cooperation rather than competition in the management and operation of Bay Area's three major airports at San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose; (4) use of some former military facilities and sharing of some under utilized military airspace, and (5) use of light rail technology between the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

It came as quite a disappointment to those following the issue that on the day before the report was to be presented to BCDC the Governor dismissed four veteran commissioners and replaced them with new members thought to support runway expansion. One new member, the former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was even made President of BCDC upon her appointment. Another new member has ties to the Building and Trades Council. Veteran observers and staff see this as a political favor from the Governor to Mayor Willie Brown, intended to manipulate the BCDC to bury the report, dismiss the consultants, and to limit public input, in order to advance plans to expand runways into the Bay. Not coincidentally, Norman Minetta, the Bush Administration's new Secretary of Transportation, recently announced support for runway expansion and a "streamlining" of the permit process. This ploy must not be allowed to succeed. We must demand alternatives. No one denies the need to alleviate the delays at our airports. It's the method that is in question. New runways, pointed north will literally and figuratively cast our future and that of our National Parks in concrete for many, many years to come.

For your sake and that of future generations we urge you to write to the commissioners at BCDC and demand that they rigorously and publicly investigate every available alternative to runway expansion. Remind them that their mission is to protect San Francisco Bay and not to advance the narrow interest of airport developers. Remind them that even limited filling of the Bay is the last and least desirable alternative available to them. Demand that they insist that FAA's Office of Systems Capacity perform a capacity analysis of aviation operations for the entire San Francisco Bay Region. This study is key to any rational regional planning and yet it has been steadfastly resisted by airport developers and regional FAA officials. BCDC must also allow and encourage full and open public participation in the planning process.

Please take the time to write today. Address your comments to : Commissioners, San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, 50 California Street, Suite 2600, San Francisco, CA 94111 or email them at [email protected]

Michael McEneany is a founding member of the West Marin Coalition on Aircraft Noise, PO Box 960, Inverness CA 94937.




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