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Cost for El Toro Airport Doubles in County Report

Impact: Long-awaited environmental impact study shows price tag now $2.9 billion, concedes South County will suffer 'significant' jet noise and reveals lifting of night flight ban.

December 24, 1999|JEAN O. PASCO and PHIL WILLON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Laguna Woods Mayor Bert Hack said he was disturbed by information in the report stating that only 2% of people in the affected areas will be awakened or have their sleep disturbed when planes land or depart late at night.

"They say it's not a big deal, but if you're the 2% it's one hell of a big deal," Hack said.

He said a recent study on the impact of late-night flights near Los Angeles International Airport indicated that, by interrupting the sleep of people 75 years and older, their life expectancy dropped by two years.

"This is a death sentence," Hack said. "This report is filled with irresponsible statement after irresponsible statement."

Aside from the noise, county officials said that a new El Toro airport would have few other environmental drawbacks. In fact, they said, air pollution and traffic would decrease in Southern California over the next 20 years because fewer Orange County airline passengers and cargo would be stuck in traffic heading to other airports.

If El Toro is not built and John Wayne not expanded, 80% of the passengers and cargo from Orange County would be driven to other airports in Southern California by 2020, said Brian Speegle, the El Toro environmental manager. With El Toro as an alternative, drivers would log 762,000 fewer miles on the road per year, Speegle said.

"Since vehicles are 98% of the development sources of [air pollution] emissions, you have a significant impact and reduction in emissions," Speegle said.

Because the Orange County airports would also have state-of-the art terminal and runway designs, the aircraft could operate with maximum efficiency, he said.

County officials said two-thirds of cancer-causing compounds produced at most airports come from ground-service equipment, not the airplanes. The proposed airport hopes to use service equipment powered by alternative fuels, and to refuel airplanes with pipelines instead of tanker trucks, Speegle said.

Laguna Woods' Hack also criticized county officials for releasing the lengthy study just before the Christmas holiday, saying it was a "cynical ploy" to thwart public interest and immediate review.

"Are these people really our political leaders, or people playing a gotcha game?" Hack said.

The public has until Feb. 22 to respond to the environmental review. The date was extended beyond the required 45 days because the report was released right before Christmas.

The first public hearing on the document will be held Jan. 19 at 5:30 p.m. at the county Hall of Administration, 10 Civic Center Plaza, Santa Ana.

Copies of the report are available at county libraries and at John Wayne Airport. A summary of the report and its technical sections can be found at www.eltoroairport.org.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Change of Plan

The county's latest proposal for converting the former El Toro Marine base into a commercial airport would cost more, include more noise restrictions, and cause less vehicle traffic than its original 1996 plan.

1996 PLAN

TOTAL COST: $1.5 billion

PASSENGERS PER YEAR: 38.3 million

TAKEOFFS PER DAY: 612

NIGHT RESTRICTIONS: Curfews

NOISE-AFFECTED HOMES*: 65 CNEL-318; 60 CNEL-2,034

DAILY TRIPS TO/FROM AIRPORT: 305,240

*

CURRENT PROPOSAL

TOTAL COST: $2.9 billion

PASSENGERS PER YEAR: 28.8 million

TAKEOFFS PER DAY: 412

NIGHT RESTRICTIONS: Will ask FAA to restrict loudest planes

NOISE-AFFECTED HOMES*: 65 CNEL-0; 60 CNEL-1,837

DAILY TRIPS TO/FROM AIRPORT: 176,123Source: County of Orange

*Homes within the 65-decibel CNEL (community noise equivalent level) range requires soundproofing.

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