‘Not going to happen’: Officials assure community that air attack base is here to stay
Airport officials say rumors that a nearby housing development could push the Grass Valley Interagency Air Attack Base out of town are unfounded.
Bulldozers and earth movers have marked the beginning of the first phase of the Loma Rica development along Idaho Maryland Road, between Sutton Way and Brunswick Road, bringing a visual transformation that has raised questions about encroaching development upon the airport’s uses.
“Cal Fire is not planning on going anywhere. As a matter of fact, I’m trying to help Cal Fire increase their footprint and help bring in extra assets to the Nevada County Airport,” Airport Manager Kevin Edwards said.
Edwards says he is currently looking at adding some property on the north side of the airport to allow more capacity for helicopters.
“Helicopters are being used way more frequently in fighting fires,” Edwards said, adding that the deep canyons in Nevada County sometimes pose a challenge for the air tankers.
“The tankers can’t get into some of those areas, and with the amount of reservoirs around here the helicopters can get closer in to help not only extinguish the fire, but for a first line of defense for the firefighters that are on the ground.”
Before Edwards became airport manager he spent a couple of years working as a temp worker at the airport, helping refill Cal Fire’s aircraft with fuel for a couple of fire seasons, so he’s familiar with the importance of Cal Fire’s air attack presence in Grass Valley.
“The importance of that base being in this area can’t be stated enough,” Edwards said. “Because it’s not just the Grass Valley, Nevada City, Auburn area, they provide protection all the way over to Nevada, all the way down to Columbia. There’s so many homes and businesses that rely on the response time from these guys.”
SITUATED FOR RESPONSE TIME
The site that would eventually become the location of the Nevada County Airport was first developed as an airfield in 1933 by gold miner Errol MacBoyle.
In 1956 Charles Litton acquired the property and gifted the creation of the current runway, which began operation in 1957.
In 1958 the U.S. Forest Service began operating from the airport, paving the way for Cal Fire’s presence and the interagency air attack base.
“This airport was selected pretty early in the whole aerial firefighting strategy,” Edwards said. “This airport was actually selected for their response time being within 20 minutes of every other (air attack) base.”
“If for some reason they had to leave here, there is no other airport that could help close that gap,” Edwards said, adding that an added response time could have meant different outcomes for fires like the Jones, River and Bennett fires.
“Twenty minutes longer on the Bennett Fire? That fire would have gone to the airport, potentially, it could have gotten a lot worse,” Edwards said.
Though people like Edwards are doing everything they can to ensure the future of the airport, he can’t help but think about challenges other airports are facing with encroaching development, including any repercussions that might occur. The recent fatal plane crash that occurred outside of the Truckee Tahoe Airport weighs heavy on his mind.
“There’s some concern of what’s going to happen up there with the last airplane that crashed,” Edwards said. “We do everything we can, but we can’t stop everything.”
One main thing Edwards and other people ensure is that overflight notifications are passed on to property owners and subsequent property owners within the future Loma Rica development.
“There are concerns and we are trying to mitigate that,” Edwards said. “The last thing we want to see is this airport shut down because someone wasn’t aware when they bought a house.
“A buyer notification program would be enacted, as well as a real estate disclosure,” Edwards said. “We were looking at a way that would benefit all parties to look into these overflight notifications.”
Edwards added that increased safety measures have been incorporated into the most recent airport land use plan that is currently under review by Grass Valley officials.
“The new standard is more safety and raises awareness to what is actually there. It makes everybody aware in the vicinity of the airport what they’re getting into when they buy a property,” Edwards said.
“This is good news for us if they accept the buyer notification program,” Edwards said of Grass Valley officials, “I don’t see many, if any, issues.”
“I’m really happy that some of the members of (the city of) Grass Valley are looking to protect Grass Valley and the developers, as well as looking to protect the airport’s interests,” Edwards said.
Edwards said he will keep an eye on the process, “Especially if the home is purchased in January or February, when there is not a lot of activity happening out here, or a lot of noise. Come June for fire season, for eight months long, with multiple flights a day, we’re really concerned about people saying, ‘I had no idea,’” Edwards said.
Sierra Foothills Construction President Keoni Allen said there will be overflight notifications passed on to property owners within the Loma Rica development, and that the air attack base is not going to get pushed out.
“Not going to happen,” Allen said, adding that a notification would be placed on everyone’s deeds within the development regarding the importance of the air attack base to the community.
Allen’s company has already done some site work consulting for the Loma Rica development, and hopes to have more business with the project in the future.
“I have gotten to know the builders and they are top notch people,” Allen said. “Bottom line is what I do know is the developers are very aware of how important the airport is, and that they don’t want it to go away.”
Cal Fire Capt. and Air Tactical Group Supervisor Sean Ryan also said the Cal Fire air attack base has no plans of leaving Grass Valley, but did express concern regarding recent sentiment over encroaching development to the airport.
“Everybody at the airport is concerned,” Ryan said. “It would be a sad day if this place closed, for many reasons.”
Ryan — who has recently spent a lot of time over the Dixie Fire flying in the twin boomed OV-10, providing air space coordination for the firefight — is a Nevada County native and grew up hearing the fire bombers at the air attack base.
“We’re very happy and proud of the air attack being stationed here,” Ryan said. “We look forward to being here as long as Cal Fire has a presence in the state.”
To contact Multimedia Reporter Elias Funez, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230
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