The environmental impact report (EIR) for the proposed amendment to the John Wayne Airport Settlement Agreement, originally reached in 1985 and set to expire in 2015, has been released and comments are being accepted now through 5 p.m. July 8 at [email protected].
I would encourage everyone whose home or business is impacted by daily commercial operations at the airport to read the report. If legal jargon and making sense of data tables dissuades you, you can read the Executive Summary, which is considerably more reader friendly. Every comment that raises an environmental issue will receive a written response.
The elements of the city’s “preferred project” which extends the noised-based curfew maintains the currently allowed million annual passenger (MAP) cap of 10.8 through 2020. However, from 2021-2025, the project permits an increased MAP cap of 1.0 in the years 2021-2025 with an additional increase of 0.7 MAP in the years 2026-2030 with some provisions on whether these thresholds are actually reached.
I live in the Bluffs and my home, along with those of my neighbors, are directly impacted by commercial aviation operations at the airport despite the protections afforded to all of the residents in Newport Beach by the Settlement Agreement. My neighbors ask me, “Why is the city, SPON and AWG proposing to amend the agreement? Why not maintain it as it is, or better yet, make it more stringent?
The answer to these questions is actually in the EIR Executive Summary. The extension of the Settlement Agreement to the year 2035 must seek to balance “competing interests” of the demand for air travel in Orange County with the environmental impacts on those who live near the airport. In other words, the residents of Newport Beach must “play well with others.”
It is worth mentioning here that Federal Aviation Administration Regulations have changed relative to restrictions any agency can place on commercial aviation operations since 1985.
If the city were to simply reject any growth in the MAP cap, it might very well put the entire Settlement Agreement at risk, and it would likely be impossible to restore or replace.
The EIR goes on to point out that existing regulatory (the Settlement Agreement, in other words) and physical constraints prevent JWA from meeting the air travel demand as it exists today. That’s our call to action—a reminder that Newport Beach’s quality of life remains at risk.
In the end, I believe the proposed project in the EIR preferred by the city will ultimately be accepted and put in place. However, as residents we should demand that our city leaders not only remain diligent about protections in the Agreement, but also sensitive to this precarious balance we must maintain relative to commercial operations at JWA.
Tim Brown / Newport Beach
(Tim Brown is a Planning Commissioner for Newport Beach and Candidate for City Council)