In order to meet new runway-safety regulations and current aviation needs, Santa Barbara Airport is planning a major renovation that will necessitate the relocation of Tecolotito Creek.
New Federal Aviation Administration safety standards require a runway safety area 1000 feet long at each end and 500 feet wide on each side that allows aircraft to come to a safe stop in case of an emergency. In order to meet these guidelines, SBA will have to relocate Tecolotito Creek 2,000 feet to the west in order to accommodate a new runway.
“It can’t be emphasized enough that this does not lengthen the runway so much as one inch. It moves it 800 feet to the west,” Gordon Feingold, an airline transport pilot, said. “If an airplane goes off the end of the runway now, because there is an inadequate overrun area, … [it will] probably break up and burn.”
Jessie Altstatt, program director and biologist for Santa Barbara Channel Keeper, an environmental protection group, said the city of Santa Barbara City has not properly evaluated all available environmental impact mitigation measures.
“We’ve been pitted against the people who say the airport is unsafe the way it is,” Altstatt said. “But if the airport is unsafe the way it is, why does everyone continue flying in and out of it. Is it really that unsafe?”
Feingold said Santa Barbara City has worked for ten years with environmental groups and UCSB students to ensure appropriate mitigation.
“The creek is not holy. Human lives are more important,” Feingold said. “Especially since the creek aspects are being mitigated in a very adequate way. If this thing doesn’t happen, then no improvements are going to be made to the slough at all, and it’s just going to continue to fill up and become of less and less value environmentally.”
The California Coastal Commission will meet on April 9-12 at the Radisson Hotel in Santa Barbara to respond to public comment on the Tecolotito Creek and Goleta Slough issue. It will also determine whether to approve the airport’s renovation plan. If passed, the runway safety area could be ready in one to two years.
SBA’s proposed changes also include the creation of new parking and the construction of a new air cargo building and a new service road. Additionally, the Airport Commission wants to renovate hangers for smaller aircraft as well as part of the historic portion of the terminal.
SBA’s principal planner, John Ledbetter, said that although the airport recently lost one of its principal carriers, United, terminal expansion is necessary in the long run.
“It’s long term planning and the aviation industry is very elastic and it responds pretty dramatically to what the economy is doing,” Ledbetter said. “Over the long haul – over the last four years – it’s been a constant at a minimum of 4 percent growth rate. There are a lot of ups and downs in the aviation industry. It takes a long time to design and construct airport facilities and these economic downturns come and go.”