December 14, 2011
Monterey County Superior Court Judge Lydia Villarreal got a Construction 101 lesson at a hearing on planned runway improvements at the Monterey Peninsula Airport on Wednesday.
Attorneys reluctantly agreed to a compromise that will allow the airport to proceed with the first phase of a $42 million project. Granite Construction will be allowed to break ground as scheduled on Dec. 27, but will be prohibited from clearing any trees or brush until Villarreal considers a lawsuit filed in June by the Highway 68 Coalition.
"It does seem to me that a lot of work could be done short of yanking out the trees," Villarreal said, paring down the airport's immediate plans for construction. Representatives of Highway 68 Coalition and the airport met in the hallway over a large, foam-mounted map of the plans to parse which portions of the project the plaintiffs would okay. Granite will be able to demolish a building, set up required water lines, build fencing and do other preparatory work for the project, which involves adding a high-friction engineered material arresting system (EMAS) to the ends of airport runways to comply with Federal Aviation Administration rules.
"The construction has to start. If it doesn't, the project will basically be in limbo for about a year," said Derek Cole, an attorney with Roseville-based Cota Cole LLP who is representing the airport. A delay would up Granite's tab by $1.5 million, according to court documents. "We're at a go no-go point here," he added.
Highway 68 Coalition, represented by Carmel Valley-based attorney Richard Rosenthal, only reluctantly agreed to the terms Cole proposed to get the project off the ground. "You start giving a little bit, and all of a sudden you're phasing in," he said.
The nonprofit is opposing the runway project on the grounds that plans also include an 80-foot retaining wall and a new emergency road that connects to Highway 68 north of the airport near Tarpy's. The group says the EMAS installation is fine, but alleges the retaining wall and new road violate environmental regulations.
"The account [Highway 68 Coalition] presents is fictional. It's like being in a bizarro-world," Cole said in court. "The airport [today] is not meeting federal safety standards. This is a runway safety project."
Rosenthal responded, "There's not going to be one iota of an increase in the safety standards."
Dick Searle, chair of the airport district board, was the lone dissenting vote on the project, and concurs with Rosenthal when it comes to safety. “The whole thing is just crazy. We don’t need it,” he told the Weekly in August.
The next hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12.