This is the month the county's draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the final configuration of El Toro should finally come out. Already postponed twice, the original schedule had the county Board of Supervisors actually voting this month on the mammoth document. Under the county's revised schedule—which typically changes from month to month—that won't happen until spring.
"The draft EIR is a very detailed and comprehensive analysis of the biggest public-works project in Orange County's history," said El Toro program manager Michael Lapin in a Nov. 17 press release. "In order to ensure that the document is complete and accurate and meets the high standards that the board and public expect, we have decided to issue the document in December."
"Complete"? "Accurate"? "High standards"? Lapin protests too much. For five years, county officials have been "planning" their proposed El Toro International Airport. This "planning" consisted mainly of copying runways and flight tracks established by the Marines, releasing new proposals for the airport on a political whim, and attacking the airport's critics.
Throughout, local commercial pilots and the nation's two largest commercial pilots unions blasted the plan, saying El Toro's crisscrossing runways and the county's desire to throw 70 percent of all departures east would force pilots to make tricky takeoffs uphill into rising terrain with tail winds—a hat trick of dangerous obstacles. Now, according to internal e-mails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Len Kranser, editor of the El Toro Airport Info Site (www.eltoroairport.org), at least one Federal Aviation Administration official agrees.
"[W]e may eventually be stuck with an airport layout that, while it looks great by itself on paper, is virtually unusable from an integrated [air-traffic control] standpoint," said FAA official Walter White in a Aug. 4 e-mail. "I do not look forward to the years of safety problems and litigation we might undergo as we work to fix a bad initial plan. Many of the plans reviewed to date have significant problems."
The "bad initial plan" White refers to is, of course, the county's configuration. In fact, White's contempt for the five years and more than $50 million already invested by the county is so great that as he wrote, he seemed to endorse an alternative plan by two pro-airport activists as one that "appears to offer the most efficient level of integration with current traffic flows and thus potentially the highest level of safety and efficiency."
The plan is the product of two guys—one from Balboa Island and one from Santa Ana Heights—who call themselves the "New Millennium Group." They're so sick of John Wayne Airport overflights that they sketched their own El Toro runway configuration in hopes of getting that airport to draw flights away from their neighborhoods.
Their compassion doesn't extend to the many residents of South County who live near El Toro, residents united in their hatred of any future airport, including the one proposed by the New Millennium Group. As for county planners and officials, the FAA memo makes clear that their own secrecy and ineptitude are helping airport opponents more than anyone imagined.