All sprung out
Potential headwinds at Mammoth Yosemite
They say the devil is in the details.
Too bad the Town of Mammoth Lakes has never been too detail-oriented.
At Wednesday’s meeting of the Mammoth Lakes Airport Commission, it was revealed that the Town has not obtained concrete permission to place a “Sprung Structure” at Mammoth Yosemite to help handle an anticipated increase in passenger traffic for the 2011-2012 ski season.
The number of daily flights at the airport will increase from four last year to as many as seven this year.
According to Staff report prepared by Associate Planner Jen Daugherty and Airport Manager Bill Manning for Planning Commission approval in July, “the proposed facility would be similar to the sprung structures in Mammoth Lakes at Eagle Lodge and Fire Station 1, and would be located adjacent to the existing temporary terminal building and parking area. The structure would be approximately 30 feet by 75 feet and less than 19 feet tall.
… A concrete slab would be installed and utilities extended to serve this structure
… The current terminal facility can only accommodate one flight (approximately 80 people at one time), which limits flight schedules and is a problem when flights are delayed or planes are unable to take off due to weather.”
Sounds innocuous enough, right? Here’s the catch.
When the State of California and the Sierra Club sued the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) over the Town’s airport expansion project in 2003 (the plaintiffs successfully argued that the Town and FAA should have prepared an
Environmental Impact Statement), U.S. Magistrate Judge Bernard Zimmerman issued an injunction enjoining, or forbidding, any further construction work at the airport.
Here is his exact language. The caps and bold are his, not mine.
“It is further ORDERED that defendants, including the Town of Mammoth Lakes, which intervened on the remedy portion of this matter, are hereby ENJOINED from commencing any construction or other work on the airport expansion project pending conformance with all NEPA requirements, including completion and adoption of an Environmental Impact Statement. The Town’s request to exclude from this injunction certain construction activities is DENIED. The court retains jurisdiction to enforce or modify this injunction.”
Airport Manager Bill Manning said Wednesday that “our legal team believes it [Zimmerman’s injunction] doesn’t apply.”
To be more specific, Zimmerman’s order appears to have two parts. The first part talks about the former airport expansion project in particular, and then the second part appears to reserve the court’s right to intervene in the event of any construction activity.
The Town believes that a temporary building has nothing to do with the previous expansion project and therefore does not fall under the terms of the injunction.
Unfortunately, as Owen Maloy pointed out Wednesday, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. It only matters what the court thinks. If the court decides to weigh in and determines that a temporary facility would violate the injunction, there will be no facility.
There are no guarantees the court will not delve into the matter.
Manning said that Town Manager Dave Wilbrecht has been in contact with the Deputy State Attorney General Jamie Jefferson, based in the A.G’s Oakland office. The A.G. represented the plaintiff, the People of California, in the 2003 lawsuit.
Manning also contended that he has been in weekly communication with the FAA and that it is the FAA’s position that CEQA (state environmental law) would apply, not NEPA (the federal version).
“We’re in contact with our planner on a weekly basis,” he said.
Deputy A.G. Jamie Jefferson’s office could only tell The Sheet the matter is under review.
Calls to the FAA elicited the following responses.
Arlene Draper out of the FAA’s San Francisco office said Thursday that the FAA is aware of the Town’s plans for a Sprung Structure but has not had time to analyze the project.
Ian Gregor, an FAA spokesman based in L.A., called later that afternoon. According to Gregor, “The issue for the FAA is the definition of ‘temporary.’ Typically, the FAA considers a structure to be temporary if it’s in place for a year or less. A temporary structure does not require a change to the Airport Layout Plan (ALP) or review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
However, a temporary structure that’s in place for more than a year could require a change to the ALP and NEPA review. The FAA is reviewing the situation.”
*FYI, Mammoth’s Planning Commission defined temporary as being good through 2017 in its approval.
Further, Gregor said, a court – not the FAA – would determine whether something violates an injunction, and that the Town first contacted the FAA in June.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Swall Meadows resident Stephen Kalish said he’d called FAA Airport Planner Elisha Novak last week and The Sheet reached Novak Thursday. Novak confirmed he is currently assigned to Mammoth Yosemite Airport but was not authorized to speak to the press.
Kalish, however, contends that Novak told him he had never heard of a plan for a Sprung Structure – not until Kalish told him about it.
Mayor Jo Bacon sat next to me during the Airport Commission meeting. This was the first she had heard about a possible legal issue involving the Sprung Structure. She said she was unaware of the applicability of the court injunction and that staff had never brought it up.
Council has approved $275,000 in funding for the structure. Groundbreaking is scheduled to commence in two weeks.
So what would happen if there was no Sprung?
Mammoth Mountain Senior Vice-President Pam Murphy said it would not change current plans for up to seven flights a day. “We could still do it,” she said, “but it would create a potentially damaging customer service experience.”
Another topic of interest introduced at the Airport Commission involved discussion of a future Airport Layout Plan. An “Ideal Airport Study” carried out by architect Reinhard Brandley concluded that if the Town wished to build any airport which actually met FAA specifications – either by relocating to a new site or amending the existing one, the cost is nine figures either way (that’s $100 million-plus).
To make the existing airport FAA-compliant for larger aircraft, you’d literally have to take a bulldozer to part of Doe Ridge.
The speculation is that the Study was conducted to show how economically infeasible it is to build a compliant airport, hope being the FAA will continue to grant Mammoth Yosemite code exemptions.
As Manning said, “There aren’t any perfect airports out there.” He cited Burbank as one example.
One part of the document clearly irked Commission members Thom Heller and Deb Pierrel – the part where MMSA “forecasts that within five years the annual enplanement passenger total will reach 150,000.”
“I thought we tried our best not to get here,” said Heller, citing a desire for a smaller, safer airport that could easily and affordably meet environmental standards. “Let’s remove the pie-in-the-sky aspects,” he said.
Kendra takes “Body” on the road
The “Body Parts” art exhibit currently being showcased at Bluebird Imaging in the Industrial Park features the work of nine women artists: Dana Ellis, Elizabeth Kenneday, Kendra Knight, Taylor Kumlue, Lori Michelon, Margaret Palchak, Kristen Schipke, Carla Spencer and Laurel Stanford.
Knight will be taking the show on the road to the Labor Day Arts Festival at Sam’s Wood Site this weekend.
The nine artists would like to collaborate on an annual show.
The subject for next year? There is a tentative consensus on a “Housewives” theme. “I want to call it ‘Desperate Housewives,’” said Knight, “but I haven’t talked to the others yet.”
If you miss the show over Labor Day, it will be up through October at Bluebird Imaging. Bluebird is generally open from 8-4 Monday-Friday but call ahead. They’ll be keeping “Mammoth hours” in the fall. 760.914.3752.
Radio Free Mammoth!
Weather permitting, it’s only about two months until the lifts start turning on Nov. 10. And this year, Mammoth Mountain Ski Area has new technology that should appeal to season pass holders who don’t like your ID dangling off you and prefer to keep it inside a pocket. Thanks to radio-frequency technology, this winter you’ll no longer need to empty your pockets to get on the lifts. A la those cool chip-embedded smart credit cards, lifties will be able to scan you in via RFID-enabled passes. Even if you received a 2011-2012 season pass after May 1 or have a two-year season pass, you’ll need a new one issued to access the Mountain. The good news: there’s no extra charge for the RFID technology.
The RFID passes should start arriving in mailboxes by mid-October, with no further action required. -Craig Lister, MMSA
Devils Postpile planning
Devils Postpile National Monument is in the process of developing its first ever General Management Plan that will guide decision- and policymaking for the next 15 to 20 years. The planning team has developed four preliminary alternatives. Each delineates different approaches to managing the monument’s resources, as well as a variety of ways to meet the needs of visitors.
A public Open House will be held at the Mammoth Lakes Library on Thursday, Sept. 15, from 3-6 p.m. to discuss the alternatives. To learn more, visit the National Park Service Planning website http://parkplanning.nps.gov/depo. or contact Superintendent Deanna Dulen at 760.924.5505.
Mono County budget hearings
The Mono County Board of Supervisors will conduct public hearings this week on the County’s proposed budget for FY 2011-2012. The hearings on Wednesday, Sept. 7, and Friday, Sept. 9, will be held in Bridgeport; the hearing on Thursday, Sept. 8, will be held in Mammoth. View/download the entire proposed budget for 2011-2012 at: www.monocounty.ca.gov/departments/auditor/documents/2011-12_ProposedBudget.pdf.
Come celebrate the life of Mammoth local, Lisa “Bloo” Longo, who passed away on Aug. 10. A Memorial Service is being held on Sept. 15 from 3-5 p.m. at Minaret Vista. As Stephanie Wolff points out on the Facebook page for the event, “Let’s celebrate Bloo’s life the way she would have wanted. Potluck, friends and some sick beats. ‘Beats and Treat.’ Please feel free to bring something, especially if it reminds you of Bloo.”
Mammoth Mud Run – Winners
Male 13-19 Jake Bianco
Female 13-19 Kiko Sweeney
Male 20-29 Jackson Burk
Female 20-29 Jessi Locke
Male 30-39 Forrest Schmidt
Female 30-39 Rebecca Sheehy
Male 40-49 Jeremy Matteson
Female 40-49 Anna Strathman
Male 50-59 Bill Valaika
Female 50-59 Karen Valaika
Male 60-69 Brad Schilz
Female 60-69 Marilyn Howard
Male Broadwater Crossfit Bishop Boys
Female Kiddoo Chika Rockas
Coed Francis Donkey and Friends
(Overall Team Winner)
The legal opinion that the proposed building does not fall under the injunction is no doubt sound. It is also nonsense on stilts. This is not a case of opining about what a judge might say as a case of first impression. This is a case of poking a judge in the eye with the very short stick because he has already ruled against us, and in strong terms.
Reliance on dubious legal opinions to paper over disgracefully poor staff work and abominable business judgment on Council’s part is precisely what has made this town technically insolvent. So let me make this plain for staff and council: this judge will consider the proposed building as falling under his injunction as surely as the sun will rise in the east tomorrow. So work with him preemptively to get him on board, instead of ignoring him while you fall asleep with your heads on pillows stuffed with worthless legal opinions.
The town council seems to attract lawsuits like campers do bears. Were there no lessons learned with the first airport fiasco? The town should be forced to divest ownership of the airport to protect taxpayers from the risky behavior of the town council.
Well put Tourbillion, very well put. How many times did we hear what a good position we were in in regards to MLLA suing us…until we weren’t in such a good position anymore. It’s quite apparent that Airport Staff may know how to mow lawns, but precious little else.