Mammoth Lakes’ Town Council earlier this month made the decision to mothball the Airport and Mobility commissions.
Airport Commission Chair Deb Pierrel told The Sheet, in light of the commission’s demise, she’s concerned about “the transparency of oversight,” and private business being too strong an influence behind the scenes. “Moreover, I am distressed about the current submittal for a single use developer project at the airport [for the 25 acres that were part of the now defunct Hot Creek developement agreement] before there is a plan for best use and practice. It is another invitation for poor planning and future problems if anything is accepted before the community and town decide and research best use and needs,” she added.
Town Public Works Director Ray Jarvis further indicated that the Town plans to maintain the level of public input, especially on big items, such as the Airport Layout Plan (ALP). “That was a very extensive process, I think we worked on it for about 2.5 years,” Jarvis observed. “The Airport Commission provided a great forum for the public. It’s a great group of folks, and to the extent we’re able, we’d love to invite [Commissioner] John Walter and others with expertise to give feedback whenever possible.”
Pointing to other big airport doings on the horizon, Jarvis said the public will be a key part in work on the airport’s terminal expansion and related environmental work, and in the upcoming revision of the airport’s 5-year economic plan.
Regarding how the commission’s dissolution affects the work of Airport Consultant Reinard Brandley, Jarvis said he doesn’t see much change in Brandley’s role as consultant. “His work mostly is done directly with Town staff anyway,” he said.
“[Brandley] understands our needs, as well as has extensive experience to assist us,” Pierrel posited. She did, however, acknowledge the citizen watchdogs. “I am glad that Owen Maloy and Stephen Kalish are active, as they have brought up good points and brought forth information we do need to look at and keep mindful of.”
One thing Pierrel said she is NOT concerned about is Bishop. “Regarding the Bishop airport, they are nowhere close to having any ability to take flights,” she assessed. “From what I have seen first-hand, neither do they have community desire or funding to get there. Bishop would have to get money, consensus, a plan funding and extensive changes for FAA needs. This is not an option that is anywhere close to a discussion point.”
Airport Commissioner Lee Hughes said in a letter to Town Council he thinks the commission will be missed. “It was valuable, at least in my opinion, to have an advisory group who specialized in the unique challenges associated with MMH, especially since the Town is in the middle of expanding its fledgling air service and upgrading air field infrastructure,” he wrote. “The Commission was a good way to increase the transparency of the process and hold the Town government accountable for its decisions. Some (but not all) of these functions will now go to the Planning Commission.
“I’m sure the Planning Commission will do a fine job of supervising major projects at the airport such as the new terminal. However, an airport is not your average public works project. Like the Airport Commission, it will take a while for the Planning Commission to become educated on the special requirements and design criteria.”
Meanwhile, the Planning Commission already has had dealings with Mobility. “We have included mobility issues in our development discussions for many years now, as to how a particular development might affect traffic circulation, parking, visual impact, safety, etc.,” Chair Rhonda Duggan indicated.
As to the Planning Commission’s involvement with the Airport, Duggan was a bit more cautious. “Unfortunately, we have had little involvement with the Airport. Now that we are assuming the role of the Airport Commission, we will need to rely on staff for their expertise in this area for some time. All will be determined by the priorities of Council.”