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It's Time to Quit Guessing and Put El Toro to a Real Test

June 29, 1997|KAREN BYERS and ALAN ELLSTRAND | Karen Byers teaches part time at Cal State Long Beach and Cal State Fullerton and is communications director for Project '99. Alan Ellstrand, an associate professor of management at Cal State Long Beach, is media director for Project '99. They write from Irvine

Not long ago, a friend passed along a letter that he had received from Supervisor Thomas W. Wilson, which proclaimed that there was some "good news" concerning the proposed El Toro international airport.

Wilson's letter indicated that the county was prepared to sponsor a flight test at the El Toro site to gather information about the impact of the proposed international airport. We agree that this is good news. However, we would like to issue a challenge to Supervisor Wilson and the other supervisors on the board:

Let's get some real answers to our many questions about the effects of the proposed airport. Instead of having a couple of planes fly in and out to monitor noise levels, let's organize an honest-to-goodness test that will tell us whether the airport is workable and environmentally acceptable, as the proponents say it is.

Let's organize a 48-hour test--two consecutive 24-hour periods. The challenge is a simple one: In each of these 24-hour periods, there should be a total of 1,225 air cargo and passenger takeoffs and landings at El Toro, just as the Community Reuse Plan proposes. These flights should be around-the-clock, with most of the cargo flights taking place at night. The test should include a mix of aircraft, including 747s, heavily weighted with fuel and cargo to reflect the realities of everyday flight.

That's it. No other conditions. As airport proponents have pointed out again and again, the runways at El Toro are ready to go--they're available for the test at no cost. Takeoffs should be to the east and north (toward the Santa Ana Mountains), just as the reuse plan provides. Or, they can be to the west (over Irvine), as many of us believe they will. Pilots should land from the south, over Dana Point and Aliso Viejo and Leisure World, as the reuse plan provides. Or, depending on wind conditions or other factors, they can land from any other direction.

Instead of taking a few isolated measurements from a few takeoffs and landings, we'll be able to learn so much more from measuring the actual noise levels and air pollution.

Apart from the quantitative measurements, this test will enable us to glean qualitative, on-the-ground information from thousands of residents throughout Orange County. The citizens of the directly affected communities can tell us what they think of the 24-hour takeoffs and landings.

Of course, this test won't tell us everything. It won't tell us about the expected 305,000 added average daily automobile trips; it won't tell us about the long-term effects on our health and our property values. And this test won't settle any questions about jobs. But a properly organized 48-hour test will tell us a lot more than any EIR or EIS could ever tell us about the effects of noise and air pollution on schools, churches, work and home life.

Organizing this test shouldn't be too difficult. There are plenty of people and plenty of government agencies presumably interested in getting some honest answers. In fact, as the federally recognized and state recognized Local Redevelopment Authority for El Toro, it would seem logical that the Orange County supervisors would take the lead. But the supervisors and county residents should also call on our congressional delegation for help. And we should ask the Federal Aviation Administration, the Marine Corps and the Navy to help as well.

In addition, we should seek the cooperation and support of the cities of Orange County. And we should ask the Air Transport Assn. to donate commercial aircraft for the test and the Air Line Pilots Assn. to recruit crews.

Yes, the commercial airline pilots and others have told us that even with all this help the 48-hour test might cost as much as $3 million. (That amounts to a little more than $1 for every resident in Orange County.) That's a lot of money, but the county just received a $3-million federal grant to help pay for a new master plan for El Toro, and county supervisors recently approved a plan to spend up to $1 million on a public relations campaign to disseminate the "truth" about the proposed airport. The FAA funds are probably restricted, but the million dollars targeted for consultants to spend on focus groups, brochures, newsletters, videos and kiosks would be much better spent on a realistic test at El Toro.

What better way could there be to disseminate the "truth" than to demonstrate the reality of an El Toro Airport?

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