The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Neighboring cities annoyed by Mather Airport noise

Published: Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 - 9:44 am

Already opposed to Mather Airport's planned expansion, neighboring communities have grown further upset about how Sacramento County quietly approved a new tenant – a Taiwanese airline's flight-training academy.

Suburban areas such as Folsom and El Dorado County that sit in the flight path east of Mather have long complained about overhead noise from cargo jets.

In March, county supervisors with much fanfare approved a lease for EVA Airlines at Sacramento Executive Airport. Then, on July 23, supervisors approved a new lease for the academy without any discussion, moving it to Mather.

The board approved the move on its consent agenda, where items considered routine are handled without public comment.

EVA Airlines asked for the switch because it was concerned that federal funding cuts could eliminate flight tower services at Executive Airport, according to a county staff report. Mather has operated as a cargo airport since the U.S. Air Force turned over the former base to the county about 20 years ago.

County airports director John Wheat said he asked the board to consider the new location as a consent item. He said he considered the matter routine, just as he would when any new tenant wanted to locate at Mather.

Dave Miller, Folsom's director of public works and community development, said the county should have handled the decision differently.

"Given all the controversy they've had over airport noise, they should have had a public hearing simply to give the people a chance to talk about it," he said.

Mather Airport, located between Sacramento and Rancho Cordova, receives the most noise complaints of the county's four airports – Executive, Franklin Field and Sacramento International are the others.

During the 12 months ending in April, about half of the 825 complaints about noise were related to Mather flights, according to county data.

Most of those complaints were from residents of Folsom and El Dorado Hills.

Chuck Coalson, a retired federal employee, is a frequent critic. He said he's been frustrated with noise from Mather flights since the Air Force closed its base around the same time he moved into his Folsom home.

Coalson said the failure to publicly discuss the switch is indicative of the county's attitude toward Mather neighbors.

"It's frustrating," he said. "They've only been interested in what they want and not what the surrounding community wants."

Coalson, who lived in another Folsom home when the Air Force base was open, said military jets were less disruptive because they were smaller than the cargo planes used now and because the Air Force was more conscious of disrupting residents.

He said cargo flights regularly wake him and disrupt conversations – both common complaints, according to Folsom officials.

EVA Airlines made the decision to switch to Mather because the Federal Aviation Administration was going to stop providing air control service at Executive Airport, Wheat said. That was the result of the federal budget cuts called sequestration.

The FAA ultimately averted that decision and kept providing air control service at Executive. Nevertheless, EVA Airlines remained concerned about the long-term viability of tower service at Executive, Wheat said.

The county has extensive expansion plans at Mather beyond the training school and wants to turn it into a "regional air cargo hub," according to the airport's master plan completed this year.

"It has always been the plan to increase airport traffic," Wheat said.

The city of Folsom is opposed to the expansion, saying in a July 29 letter that neither the county nor airport officials have mitigated existing noise problems related to current traffic. El Dorado County also sent a letter to Sacramento County last month raising concerns about noise from the expansion.

The city sued the county over airport noise, reaching a settlement in 2007. But the noise reduction plan has not helped, said development director Miller.

Call The Bee's Brad Branan, (916) 321-1065. Follow him on Twitter @bradb_at_sacbee.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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