In what could be a contentious hearing this afternoon, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors will decide whether Dick Bjelland should be allowed to expand a small general aviation airport north of Galt.
The county Planning Commission has approved Bjelland’s expansion plans, but the Nature Conservancy, which owns some protected land surrounding the airport, has filed an appeal to the Board of Supervisors.
At today’s hearing, the Board of Supervisors will decide whether to overrule the Planning Commission and deny the expansion.
Mustang Airport, off Arno Road east of Highway 99, began operations in 1990. Currently, three flights per day are permitted.
“We were fine with that then, and we’re fine with it now,” said Mike Conner, a project director for the Nature Conservancy, a nationwide nonprofit conservation organization.
But Bjelland, a Lodi native, wants to average 13 takeoffs and landings per day, or about 4,800 per year, according to a staff report from Sacramento County’s Community Development Department.
And Conner says that Bjelland wants to expand flights to up to 20 per day.
Bjelland’s attorney, Diane Kindermann, puts it another way: 14 takoffs or landings — not both — per day during the first phase, and up to 20 during the second phase.
The Nature Conservancy opposes the Mustang Airport expansion because conservancy officials consider aviation an incompatible use. The conservancy, through federal, state and county taxpayer dollars, owns more than 4,300 acres of protected lands on three sides of the airport.
The Nature Conservancy owns thousands of acres of land, mostly along the Cosumnes River. The area most accessible to the public is the Cosumnes River Preserve on Franklin Boulevard, just east of Interstate 5 and north of the town of Thornton.
But the Nature Conservancy and several other organizations purchased the former Valensin Ranch on both sides of Highway 99 surrounding Mustang Airport. That’s 4,300-plus acres of protected land for birds, other animals and their habitats.
Conner pointed to three types of birds that use trees along the north fork of Badger Creek, north of Mustang Airport, for nesting and hatching eggs in the spring. Gray-blue herons, egrets and cormorants, a black diving bird, were seen in the trees one day last week.
“These birds fly right over the runway,” Conner said.
Canada geese and Sandhill cranes fly through the area in the winter, he said, and there are also eagles and Swainson’s hawks flying through the area.
“It’s only a matter of time before a plane hits a Sandhill crane,” Conner said.
Kindermann counters with a U.S. Department of Transportation study that shows that 85 percent of the airplanes that struck a bird between 1990 and 2008 were commercial jet aircrafts, and that the remainder were struck by a combination of military, business jet and general aviation planes.
“There will be no jets here,” Kindermann said.
Additionally, Kindermann said she will tell the Board of Supervisors that California has 69 airports within two miles of federalor state-designated ecologically sensitive areas and 11 more within five miles.
Although the Nature Conservancy’s appeal is still pending, the California State Lands Commission adopted a resolution opposing the airport expansion on April 6.
Kindermann said she presented the state Lands Commission with some information on why the resolution shouldn’t be adopted, but commissioners relied on a report by its staff in adopting the resolution.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.