The Colusa County Airport Advisory Committee met for the last time on Thursday as a large group of flying buffs who work together to keep the airport on Highway 20 viable, and from being pushed out by development.
Beginning in September, the committee, which also serves as the Airport Land Use Commission, will become a more traditional and structured committee who answers to the Board of Supervisors.
Although the restructure is not popular with the existing 15 committee members, the Board of Supervisors directed County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler and County Counsel Marcus Kroph in June to restructure the committee in order to promote consistency in how airport matters and projects are reviewed and facilitated.
The board adopted the committee’s new bylaws on Aug. 4, with a 5-0 vote.
“The Airport Advisory Committee will continue to serve as the Airport Land Use Commission, but the total number of members will be seven,” Kroph said. “This is a substantial reduction from what we have now, which is about 15.”
Kroph said in June that the restructure to a more formal committee would allow better compliance with the changing regulatory environment, and would be necessary to comply with the California Public Utility code.
Current committee members, however, fear the new body risks losing the institutional knowledge of the people who have used the airport or have been involved with the airport for decades. The bylaws for the new committee require only two members to have expertise in aviation or possess particular knowledge of the function, operation, and role of airports. The new committee also allows elected officials of the local agency which owns or operates the airport (Colusa County) to be members.
Commission members, particularly former Chairman Randy Johnson, have fought since June to have a nine-member committee that requires at least four members with aviation knowledge, with two alternates that have aviation experience.
Johnson said that with all the new restrictions, and a younger generation of FAA officials coming on board who look at things completely differently, it was important that the committee maintain individuals with a historical knowledge of the airport or a working knowledge of how the airport is managed.
“This land use commission, with so many other things, has a strict goal to protect the community from aircraft accidents and people (development),” Johnson said. “This group needs to concentrate on all the rules and regulations that have gotten stricter.”
The Board of Supervisors plan to make appointments before the new committee’s first meeting on Sept. 14. In order to stager the expiration of the terms, the initial appointees will have one member serving a one-year term; two members serving a two-year term; two members serving a three-year term; and two serving a four-year term. Committee seats with less than a full four-year term will then convert to four-year terms upon expiration of the first term, Kroph said.
Members of the Airport Advisory Committee must be residents of Colusa County, and must select a chairman and vice chairman. The committee will meet every other month, instead of every quarter, officials said.
Supervisor John Loudon said reducing the size of the board to just seven members would allow for a more streamlined process so that projects can be expedited. But that is what makes current members nervous, and they fear the Board of Supervisors will stack the majority with themselves, their underlings, and those who will not commit the time or effort to thoroughly review development projects near the airport.
The Board of Supervisors did not consider the committee’s request for a nine member board with four aviators, much to their disappointment.
“There will be major changes, whether we like it or not,” said Chairman Paul Sankey, at Thursday’s ALUC meeting. “I hope it bodes well for this airport in the future; I really do. I think it is a really important job to protect our airport. It’s the only public airport in this county. It’s a great safety feature for our county, and it’s a huge economic benefit to our county. It’s a lifeline and it needs to be protected in the future.”
Sankey thanked all the members who have spent so much time and effort going over the projects that have developed around the airport to make sure they were compatible. He opened the meeting with a moment of silence for Mary Winters, a longtime public-at-large member of the committee, who died on Aug. 1.
Some current committee members said after the meeting they were still undecided if they would apply for a seat on the new commission.
“I not sold on what they are going to do yet,” said Randy Salverson, who said the airport is a connection to the outside world and major hub for the community. “I need more time to think about it.”
Former Colusa City Councilwoman and pilot Donna Critchfield said she will step aside, believing it is time – and is excited about – a younger generation of pilots who are starting to become involved.
Critchfield said she first got involved with the advisory committee as a liaison, but continued seven more years after she left the city council.
“It gave me an appreciation for all the hard work,” she said. “Volunteers donated so much labor and money to have an airport. It it wasn’t for their willingness to commit time, money, and their own equipment, then the public may not have had an airport.”
Toby Reading, who recently started the new flying club at the airport to encourage young pilots to get involved, said he would probably apply for a seat on the new committee.
Pilot Mike West said he too would offer his support so that the airport – an important and viable economic driver – does not go by the wayside, as do many other small airports.
“We are the real people of why this airport works,” West said. “I think the Board of Supervisors understand this.”
Airport manager Greg Hinton also said Colusa County officials are fully aware of the airport’s importance to Colusa County.
“The Board of Supervisors understand the importance of keeping the airport viable,” said Hinton.
Hinton added that the structural changes to the committee are largely procedural to keep up with regulations. ■