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Mather airport expansion plans rile Folsom, El Dorado Hills residents' anger over noise

Comment letters for plans due to Sacramento County by Oct. 7
By: Don Chaddock, Telegraph Correspondent
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While “like a good neighbor” may be the slogan of a well-known insurance company, elected officials are hoping it will be a motto taken to heart by Mather Airport. Overhead flight noise from large cargo planes coming from and going to Mather have many in the area closing their windows, plugging their ears and hoping to find a resolution. With details emerging of a planned expansion of the airport, Folsom leaders are doing what they can, filing an objection letter based on the draft environmental impact report (EIR). They are urging residents in the region to do the same. The comment period runs through Oct. 7. Folsom City Attorney Bruce Cline said it isn’t difficult to pinpoint problems with the plan. “There are lots of issues in this voluminous EIR, but we are addressing issues directly affecting Folsom,” he said. “We are at a critical juncture regarding Mather. … It is our intent to draft a letter.” According to city officials, that’s about all they can do since the project is outside city limits. The expansion, and the airport, fall under the domain of the county. “We appreciate getting all the emails, but please, direct them to the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors,” said Councilman Andy Morin. “Our efforts here are not to shut this facility. That’s not our intent. But we need to get it operated responsibly. … (Their) intention is to turn that facility into a major money maker at the expense of the neighboring communities.” Osa Wolff, with Shute, Mihaly and Weinberger, LLP, is working with Folsom to help deal with the expansion plans. “The impacts are that cargo flights are generally noisy and older aircraft,” she said. “They often fly at nighttime.” The expansion calls for expanding the second runway and installing a high-tech instrument landing system, allowing the airport to function during inclement weather. She said Folsom and surrounding communities need to act now. Councilman Jeff Starsky said they’ve had no luck when it comes to dealing with the federal government. “The (Federal Aviation Administration) has effectively told us to pound sand,” he said. “The best chance at stopping this is all of (the residents’) letters to the (supervisors). … We just need (the airport) to be a good neighbor.” Wolff said after the facility is expanded and improvements are made, the ball game is lost. “Once the facilities are there, it is at the disposal of the operators,” Wolff said. She said in 2005, airport officials claimed installing a Category III ILS (Instrument Landing System) was “necessary for Sacramento County to market Mather as a regional cargo hub.” Now, officials wrote, “future activity levels at Mather Aiport would not be materially different with or without the planned modifications.” Mayor Kerri Howell questioned the last statement. “If it isn’t going to make a difference, why do the expansion?” she asked. Starsky said it’s really a matter of trying to make the expansion appear less threatening to the quality of life of the airport’s neighbors. “They’re trying to hide the ball,” he said. Shultz said the draft EIR has been in the works for nearly a decade. “We’ve been waiting for this Master Plan Draft EIR for a long time, since 2004,” she said. Teresa Stanley, a board member with the Folsom-Cordova Unified School District, said she was concerned regarding the noise studies conducted by the airport. “I was reviewing the draft EIR and the section on classroom disruption,” she said. “They did the study using Oak Ridge High School and an elementary school, both in El Dorado Hills, not Folsom school sites, where the planes fly lower. We were not invited to comment so we are trying to analyze and gather a response. … It was disturbing they didn’t think about Folsom schools.” Chuck Coalson, a Folsom resident of 44 years, said the planned expansion shouldn’t happen. “This is a very important issue for Folsom residents,” he said. “The operation of Mather Cargo Airport has significant effects and impacts on Folsom. Having cargo jets flying over our schools, hospitals, parks, churches, and residential areas, and impacting our quality of life is not acceptable.” Dennis Cleary, a veteran of the Air Force, said he is concerned. “The clear and present danger … I see are planes flying low and doing a jag over El Dorado Hills and my home. …. (The expansion) will impact schools, major populations and … those with health issues,” he said. The draft EIR may be reviewed at www.dera.saccounty.net. ----- IN THE KNOW Comments regarding the Mather Airport Master Plan Draft Environmental Impact Report should be submitted to Sacramento County Environmental Coordinator, emailed to DERA@saccounty.net or mailed to 827 7th St., Room 220, Sacramento, CA 95814. Comments must be received by Oct. 7. The draft EIR may be reviewed at www.dera.saccounty.net.