Open mouth, insert foot
Airport Layout Plan needs to be better defined; peer review pending
With so much riding on air service and a pending expansion of the Mammoth Yosemite Airport terminal complex, during its Wednesday meeting, the Airport Commission decided upgrades to the body itself were way overdue. Gone: the rather relaxed meeting and agenda format, replaced by Town of Mammoth Lakes agenda templates, and more formal interaction with support staff.
Commissioners were previously given a refresher course on Brown Act rules of public meeting transparency and conduct.
Changed: the regular meeting time, day and location, now scheduled for every fourth Tuesday at 3 p.m. in Suite Z, which also hosts Town Council, Planning and Recreation commission meetings.
Also on the agenda, the Commission directed Community Development Director Mark Wardlaw to proceed with issuing a Request For Qualifications to select a qualified individual or company with the right credentials in airport layout and terminal design to conduct a peer review of the Airport Layout Plan, which is currently in draft form.
The need for a peer review, Wardlaw indicated, is based on a series of very extensive, and in many cases highly technical, comments that have been received on the draft ALP.
He said there is at least one company on the targeting list, Alexandria, Va.-based Airport Consultants Council, and the Town will be sending out queries to other airport consultants who have regional experience with Eastern Sierra airport facilities, such as the Bishop Airport. Wardlaw said he expects to have a field of about 3-4 candidates to interview, and added that comparisons of resume quality versus cost would be part of the evaluation criteria.
Airport senior staff, including Director Bill Manning and Assistant Director Brian Picken will be called on to work with the consultant and provide technical support once the review begins.
Commissioners generally agreed there would be some key questions that need to be addressed before handing the review materials to the consultant. “Where are the descriptions of the parameters of what the airport should even be,” Commission Chair Pam Murphy posited. Commissioner John Walter agreed. “There should be an assumption made by the Town or by someone before the consultant is brought in,” he suggested. “The enplanements forecast model also needs going over; everything seems to flow from that.”
Naturally the agenda also included an update on the so-called “sprung structure” holding area now being erected outside the main terminal building. In a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration dated Sept. 7, the agency issued a “categorical exclusion” for the structure with regards to NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, saying no further environmental disclosure documentation is necessary.
Projected completion of the temporary waiting area, which is very similar to the Eagle Lodge sprung structure, is Dec. 9. Town Council is expected to award an outside contractor the job during its meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 5.
Manning said that utilities have been installed within five feet of the building site, and he and Town Planner Ray Jarvis said they are confident the building will be ready to go by the advent of new winter service, with seven take offs and landings per day. Mammoth Mountain Ski Area will take over all food service provisions.
Talk of the structure, however, didn’t come without at least one pointed comment from Commissioner Thom Heller, who reminded his fellow commissioners and staff that the sprung structure is to be built in direct conflict with the way such annexes are called for in the draft ALP Narrative. “We kind of put our foot our own mouth,” Heller observed. “It does the opposite of what we first said we were going to do, and lends credibility to public comment.”
Murphy agreed, indicating the public can expect more specific language and a better definition of terms in the final draft ALP.
Some of that language will likely surface as part of a Special Study Session scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 3, at 3 p.m. in Suite Z. The idea, Murphy said, is to develop a “community plan” for “what we want future air service to look like,” including a 10-20 year expansion plan, environmental impact studies, and other relevant issues and factors.
One possible agenda item for the Commission’s Oct. 25 regular meeting could be a proposal from Mammoth Lakes Tourism Director John Urdi and Town Recreation Manager Stuart Brown regarding how to best relay public information. Murphy’s concerns weren’t so much about day-to-day news or general press releases, but how to work with various agencies on communicating late breaking or emergency events.