Henderson and Hetherington offer airport truth, reason (Opinion)
Jeff Brown and Russell Hamby wrote an op-ed for the October 21 edition of the Sierra Sun (“Kat, Mike coalition expands through community”) on behalf of the “Friends” of Truckee Tahoe Airport, an organization which has seemingly come and gone over the years whenever a small number of people feel that their personal and private interests in aviation are under threat.
This organization covered our community with a letter supporting the two airport board candidates opposing Chris Henderson and Mary Hetherington. The sender misrepresented and fearmongered the positions Chris and Mary took and used the Truckee Dirt Union logo without his permission, giving the impression that TDU endorses opposing candidates, which he has since stated publicly. .
Additionally, the sender violated California election law because he did not disclose the source of the money behind it.
This sad performance was followed by the editorial, which repeated the same false and alarmist claims. So, let’s set the record straight on why airport board elections matter, why Chris and Mary are running, and why hundreds of Tahoe Truckee leaders and residents have publicly endorsed them.
Less than 10% of us use airport services or even visit the airport, according to the airport’s own estimates. Yet, every year, Truckee Tahoe Airport receives millions of dollars from North Tahoe and Truckee residents, through our property taxes and our residential rents that include those taxes.
A 2021 financial study commissioned by the airport showed that our money is being used to subsidize business operations and make flights more affordable for airport users who do not need our financial assistance. To put a more specific point on this, in 2023 we will send the airport $8 million, about half of which will subsidize below-market rates on services and rents for airport users.
FOTTA would have us believe that these subsidies are justified by the economic profit generated by the airport, but the inflated profit they claim comes from a self-serving study commissioned by the airport that used suboptimal survey methods. and makes absurd assumptions. (Just one example of an inflated benefit: the study included as the airport’s “economic impact” the salaries of firefighters at the Martis Valley Fire Station, as if the firefighters were only employed for the airport.)
And, as Chris and Mary have stated, the mere existence of some economic benefit does not absolve the airport of its responsibility to reduce overflight nuisance and safety impacts by educating and urging pilots to avoid residential areas and to correct its financial situation so that public money does not subsidize things that it should not.
We need airport board members who demand transparent financial statements and adopt business practices that respect our tax investment and use it for the benefit of the community. FOTTA claims that this amounts to “defunding” the airport. It does not make sense. We can both maintain the airport and do more for the community.
Responsible and transparent financial practices do not “distort” or endanger airport security, as FOTTA has spread fear. There is nothing in the imposition of the market rate for ground services that affects aircraft safety. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration sets and enforces airport security standards and funds virtually all airport security upgrades.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board, about 80% of plane crashes are due to pilot error, not financial prudence.
FOTTA hypocritically suggested that Chris and Mary think that charging market rates for services will reduce airport traffic. This is obviously false. They never said that publicly and in fact they said very publicly that since we can’t limit commercial traffic we should at least not ask our community to make it cheaper for those users by charging below-market fees.
Why is better management of our airport tax money important? Here are some ideas that Chris and Mary mentioned that we could do with the millions of dollars our community sends to the airport every year:
Workforce Housing — In order to make a meaningful dent in this regional challenge that is strangling local businesses, we need land and money. Our airport has both and could use them to leverage the participation of other local districts for meaningful action.
Forest Fuel Reduction — Our airport should do more to foster and support regional fire prevention programs so we can stop looking for new sources of tax revenue to address this issue. FACT: If your Truckee home is valued at $650,000 or more, you’re paying more to the airport each year than you do to fund Measure T fire prevention projects.
Reliable local energy – Vacant land at the airport could be used for solar panels, battery storage or biomass facilities that could provide energy to critical local infrastructure.
This can be done without compromising airport operations if we have an airport board with a culture of balancing community needs and local aviation. Chris and Mary have pledged to do so. Let’s elect the two candidates who will ensure that our airport is no longer an aviation country club, but rather a true community resource.
This guest column was submitted by Adam Blond, Darcy Blond, Collin Butcher, Andi Coniglio, John Echols, Zarko Ilic, Keld Laustsen, Margo Laustsen, Karen Moyer, Andy Miller, Jill Mitchell, Marc Pado, Tyler Post, Jesse Quay, Tim Ryan, Natasha Ristanovic, Dietrich Schultz, John Sorenson, Ceila Sutton, Diana Yale, Steve Yale