OC Supervisor Discusses JWA, ‘Metroplex’

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Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel speaks at this month’s Speak Up Newport meeting on Wednesday. — Photo by Sara Hall ©
Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel speaks at this month’s Speak Up Newport meeting on Wednesday.
— Photo by Sara Hall ©

John Wayne Airport and the proposed “Metroplex” were the main topics at this week’s Speak Up Newport meeting featured Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel as the guest speaker.

Nearly 150 people crowded into the Community Room at the Civic Center Wednesday night to learn more about air traffic issues at JWA. Deputy Airport Director of Public Affairs Courtney Wiercioch also spoke.

Both women focused on the Federal Aviation Administration’s draft Environmental Assessment document for the Southern California Metroplex project.

The FAA has decided to change the system for air traffic, Steel explained.

Previously, each airport was controlled individually, Steel explained. Now, they want to look at the broader view, she said.

Steel emphasized that the community, including both business owners and residents, are also stakeholders that the FAA needs to consider. It’s not all about the airlines, she added.

“If they (the FAA) think the (only) stakeholders are the airline companies we are in big trouble because you (the residents) are a bigger stakeholder than the airlines,” Steel said.

It appears that the FAA didn’t consider the concerns of the community when creating the draft EA, she noted.

This point was addressed in separate comment letters written to the FAA by the county and the city. The letters voiced their concerns regarding the draft EA and the Metroplex project.

There are “fundamental flaws” in the EA document, the city claims.

The Metroplex project, as described by the Newport Beach Aviation Committee, is meant to “improve the efficiency of airspace” at 21 airports. It may involve changes in flight paths and altitudes, but, according to the FAA, would not result in ground disturbance or increase the number of flights.

In the June 2015 “All Things Aviation” update message, City Manager Dave Kiff explains that “the FAA has indicated that there are no significant impacts (based on National Environmental Protection Act thresholds) associated with their proposals for Orange County.”

The FAA will compile and review all of the submitted comments and concerns and release a report by the end of the year, Steel said.

The comment period has been extended another 30 days, now closing Oct. 8. Newport Beach City Councilman Tony Petros strongly encouraged residents to submit their own comments to the FAA.

Wiercioch summarized the county’s comment letter.

The first comment that the county made was that the FAA should do nothing that impacts the ability of the county, city of Newport Beach, Still Protecting Our Newport or Airport Working Group to continue to implement the settlement agreement, Wiercioch explained.

“We all know that has been a long, long labor for the community,” Wiercioch said. “We made it clear that that is the county’s primary consideration.”

The county also emphasized that the airlines are not the only stakeholders, the community needs to be considered as well, she continued.

“They were not involved and they should be involved,” Wiercioch said. “We said (to the FAA), ’You need to understand, you’re focusing on 3,000 feet and above, we’re looking at 3,000 feet and below.’”

Another primary comment from the county noted that when Congress gave direction to the FAA for their NextGen initiative (FAA’s effort to make air traffic more efficient and safe) they established a set of goals, including to try and look for opportunities to reduce the exposure of noise and emissions pollution on affected residents.

The draft EA ignores this direction, Wiercioch pointed out. There is no discussion about any effort to reduce noise, emissions or other environmental impacts, she added.

The city of Newport Beach submitted a 25-page comment letter to the FAA, which is “very thorough and very good,” Wiercioch said. The city letter makes some good points and asks some hard questions, she noted. The county’s comments were very consistent with the city’s comments, she added.

The city’s comment letter to the FAA, prepared by Andrea K. Leisy of Remy Moose Manley, LLP, a law partnership focusing on land use and environmental law, points out that the draft EA neglects to take a “hard look” at the potentially significant adverse noise impacts and omits meaningful analysis of air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and cumulative impacts, among others.

“Most glaringly, the Draft EA fails to identify the potential changes in aircraft flight patterns and intensity at SNA that could result from adoption of the Southern California Metroplex project,” the letter reads.

Leisy also pointed out that the city is “gravely concerned with the lack of explanation and quantifiable information” regarding noise levels and that the noise impacts are understated.

The city also expressed concern for the FAA’s “repeated, rapid processing and adoption” of EA and their Findings Of No Significant Impact documents in other regions. To date, the FAA has issued six FONSIs out of 11 Metroplex projects.

The city “sincerely hopes the FAA has not predetermined the adequacy of the immediate EA based on a need to comply with a previously adopted implementation timeframe,” the letter states.

While they understand the desire to proceed quickly with consideration to the estimated three-year timeline it could take to prepare a Environmental Impact Statement, it appears that the FAA is rushing the process to meet an “unrealistic“ schedule, the city remarks.

“Rather than rush through the environmental analysis, the city requests that the FAA take the concerns expressed in this letter seriously and not prepare a Final EA and FONSI in haste,” Leisy writes. “Instead, the city requests that the FAA take the time to clarify the project proposal and analysis and make a good faith effort to resolve the concerns raised by the city and others.”

The city also requested a minimum six month monitoring and evaluation period if the FAA implements the Metroplex project.

Both the city and the county also call out the EA document in violation or deficient of the National Environmental Policy Act, which is a broad national commitment to protecting and promoting environmental quality. The FAA is required to meet certain NEPA obligations, which the county does not believe they have done with the draft EA document.

“The city’s letter went to that point in spades,” Wiercioch said.

Both also have concerns with the maps and graphics included with the EA.

Wiercioch pointed out that the Orange County-specific maps included with the EA show “exceptionally broad swaths” in which aircraft could operate. One of the more extreme examples is a graphic showing a route that would allow aircraft to make an immediate left turn after departure rather than head straight out to the coastline. This may not be the proposed route, she noted, but it was included in the document.

This is a significant concern the county emphasized and asked for clarity in their letter to the FAA, Wiercioch said.

The city also pointed out that the graphics showing the flight tracks are not legible or “readily understood”

Steel, Wiercioch, along with Petros, answered questions about the EA, the Metroplex project, noise and health concerns, fanned out vs. more concentrated departure routes and more.

Petros also pointed out that the city council is scheduled to discuss fanning vs. narrowing JWA routes at their Sept. 22 meeting.


For more information, visit newportbeachca.gov/trending/projects-issues/john-wayne-airport, metroplexenvironmental.com, speakupnewport.com, and ocgov.com/gov/bos.

To read the city’s letter to the FAA, visit newportbeachca.gov/home/showdocument?id=21162.


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