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Sacramento County supervisors deny Galt airport expansion

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Posted: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 8:23 am, Wed May 4, 2011.

The operator of a small, private airport north of Galt lost his chance to expand his operation on Tuesday.

After a marathon public hearing where an estimated 30 people spoke from the podium, four of the five members of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors agreed that a public airport isn’t compatible with migratory birds and their habitat.

Mustang Airport owner Dick Bjelland sought a use permit to expand his private airport on Arno Road, but The Nature Conservancy appealed the county Planning Commission’s approval to the Board of Supervisors.

After a 4 1/2-hour public hearing Tuesday afternoon, Supervisors Don Nottoli, Jimmie Yee, Susan Peters and Phil Serna agreed that a larger airport wasn’t compatible with preserving animals and their habitat at the Cosumnes River Preserve.

Board chairman Roberta MacGlashan said she was willing to allow Bjelland to expand, but none of her colleagues supported her position.

“They destroyed me,” Bjelland said after the meeting. “I don’t have any money left. I’m going to have to sell it.”

Bjelland, who was born and raised in Lodi, said he’s $1 million in debt on his property and owes $2 million for legal fees and consultants.

Bjelland’s current use permit limits operations to three to four takeoffs and landings per day and a hangar housing six planes.

Bjelland wanted a new use permit allowing an average of 13 takeoffs and landings per day, 60 rental hangars and 25 aircraft tie-downs during the first phase and 20 takeoffs and landings per day during the second phase.

Speakers from The Nature Conservancy, several other conservation organizations, Bjelland’s attorney and pilots of private planes spoke to the Board of Supervisors, giving differing opinions on whether birds are likely to be hit by planes taking off or landing, whether they fly out of the way of oncoming aircraft and whether a larger airport would harm bird habitat.

Some of Bjelland’s supporters argued that he’s a small businessman who was up against a well-financed nonprofit organization like The Nature Conservancy.

“It’s unfortunate that it became as adversarial as it is,” MacGlashan said. “I think it would be a compatible use as proposed.”

With Bjelland’s current use permit about to expire, the Board of Supervisors set a July 27 date in case he wants to continue his current operation.

Contact staff writer Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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