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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023

TRANSPORTATION–Sides Begin Forming in Brown Field Growth Debate

Transportation: Business Lauds Expansion; Others Fret Over Safety Concerns

Supporters and opponents of an air cargo facility planned for Brown Field are gearing up for the next fight over the Otay Mesa airport.

The San Diego Air Commerce Center will go before the San Diego Planning Commission on March 9 and the City Council on April 11.

The plan is touted by the business community as a boon to the city, while commercial and residential neighbors of the airport worry about noise and safety issues.

The proposal would invest more than $1.1 billion to turn the airstrip near the Mexican border into a heavy-lift cargo facility. The main airstrip would be extended from 8,000 feet to 11,500 feet, along with other improvements, said Sandy Kahn, managing director for the project.

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These improvements will allow Brown Field to accommodate 747s, 757s and other large aircraft.

By buildout in 2020, there will be up to 24 inbound flights and 24 outbound flights a day on weekdays , mostly between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. There will be a lighter schedule on Saturdays, with no flights of heavy aircraft on Sundays, Kahn said.

The project will be built without using any public subsidies or taxpayer money, although developers could ask for federal funds at a later date to construct certain improvements, Kahn said.

Cargo Shipped To LAX

The airport’s location is ideal for maquiladora operations along the border, and would also help alleviate traffic congestion by reducing the number of trucks on area highways, Kahn added.

Currently, San Diego freight must be taken to the air cargo facilities in Los Angeles or Ontario. Every year, 750,000 metric tons of cargo is trucked out of San Diego, a hefty portion of which is air freight, Kahn said.

The bottom line for local business is greater efficiency and lower cost. For example, San Diego food suppliers could get fish from Ensenada to restaurants back East in a day without worrying about the L.A. freeways or Interstate 15, Kahn said.

It’s also more profitable for trucking companies, since they can drop off a load at Brown Field, then turn around and pick up another load, moving more volume, Kahn said.

But the proposal to build the airstrip has not been without controversy. Opponents have brought up concerns about noise, traffic and environmental effects.

Carlene Baskevitch, project manager for Pardee Homes, said her company’s Ocean View Hills and the Ocean View Hills Corporate Park projects would be affected by the noise from the adjacent airport.

Homes, Schools Affected

Although area home buyers were notified Brown Field might be expanded in the future, the extent of the impacts of the proposed expansion caught both the community and Pardee by surprise, Baskevitch said.

The immediate area has eight public schools, one parochial school and an estimated population of 35,000. Add in other affected areas, such as the cities of Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and National City, and more than 100,000 people will be affected by airport operations, Baskevitch said.

Baskevitch added the draft environmental impact report was flawed, since it counted the airport’s estimated demand, not actual capacity , a figure that’s twice as high.

Also, the draft EIR said a federal environmental impact statement was not needed, despite possible impact on vernal pools, California gnatcatcher habitat, and the Multiple Species Conservation Program, she said.

Baskevitch also said there were serious safety concerns. Because Otay Mountain lies just east of Brown Field, larger aircraft won’t be able to approach from the east. Instead, they’ll be landing from the west.

The mountain also prevents heavier aircraft from taking off to the east, she said. Instead, planes will take off to the west, directly into the path of planes coming in to land.

Would Affect Navy Training

Add in tailwinds from the west and Mexican airspace to the south, and that makes the arrival and departure of larger aircraft a threat to surrounding communities, Baskevitch said.

The Navy has also weighed in with its own concerns. Operations at Brown Field could disrupt Navy training at nearby Ream Field, which uses the facility to train more than 40 percent of its helicopter aircrews.

Elsie Munsell, Navy deputy assistant secretary for environment and safety, said flights out of Brown Field would interrupt Navy operations by about eight to 10 minutes each. That would disrupt up to 35 percent of the training at Ream Field.

Since that training is crucial to the military, it cannot be eliminated. Instead, it would have to be rescheduled, Munsell said.

That means the Navy would have to fly when Brown Field is closed , from 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays, and during the weekend. That would be devastating to Imperial Beach, Coronado and surrounding communities , something the draft environmental impact report doesn’t mention, Munsell said.

Responding to these concerns, Kahn said planes flying out of the air cargo facility will be “Stage 3” aircraft , meaning their noise level will be quieter than many of the aircraft currently using Brown Field, he said.

Also, cargo planes can take off and land at a steeper angle than passenger planes. That means the planes will be at low altitudes for a shorter amount of time, spending less time disturbing residents, Kahn said.

Kahn also maintains safety problems are overstated. The Federal Aviation Administration has done an air space study, and the preliminary finding is that it’s manageable, he said.

There are also 11 other airports in the country with similar operations, and since Brown Field will have only 24 incoming and 24 outgoing flights a day, it shouldn’t be a big problem, he said.

Similarly, the FAA and the Navy are looking into how Ream Field would be affected. The FAA is conducting a study on the issue, which should be done by next month, Kahn said.


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