Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) – DEIR and Master Plan

DEIR and Master Plan

The Project

What is the proposed action or project?
The proposed project is the implementation of the 2030 Airport Master Plan (AMP). This includes a variety of project elements that would be implemented at the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport (Airport) over the course of the next twenty years. The AMP includes project elements related to maintaining and improving Airport safety, and maintaining and upgrading Airport facilities.

How does the proposed project relate to FAA standards for Runway Safety Areas?
In November 2005, Congress mandated that all airports with scheduled airline service be brought into conformance with Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) standards for Runway Safety Areas (RSA) by 2015. The Airport has two runways in a “V” configuration. The approach ends of Runways 14 and 19 are co-located and are not in compliance with current FAA design standards regarding runway ends. This proposed project addresses these runway safety area issues.

What is the Runway Safety Action Team? How were its recommendations addressed?
The FAA’s Runway Safety Action Team (RSAT) is a multi-disciplinary group that is charged with identifying means of improving safety at airports. The RSAT prepared a Runway Safety Action Plan that indicates that the co-located approach ends of Runways 14 and 19 could lead to pilot confusion. This issue remains an ongoing, potential risk identified at the Airport. The RSAT recommends that the Airport eliminate the existing condition of the co-located approach ends of Runway 14 and Runway 19 by de-coupling the two runways. Extension of the two runways was intended to address this issue. The Runway Safety Action Plan also included recommendations for modifying taxiways, airfield signage, and pavement marking. The proposed project includes means of implementing or addressing all of the items in the Runway Safety Action Plan.

Will the project change the type of aircraft that use the airport?
The forecasts developed for the EIR identify the mix of aircraft that are projected to use the Airport. The forecasts acknowledge that different types of aircraft are projected to use the Airport as a result of the implementation of the proposed project.

Environmental Process

What is CEQA?
CEQA stands for California Environmental Quality Act. It is a state law that was enacted in 1970 for protection of environmental resources. It requires California agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and describe measures which can be taken to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

What is an EIR and why is it prepared?
EIR stands for Environmental Impact Report. An EIR is a document required by CEQA when an agency determines that a proposed project may have a significant effect on the environment. An EIR describes the proposed project, the existing environmental conditions, the impacts from construction and operation of the proposed project as well as mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate impacts. Information in the DEIR enables decision-makers, interested parties and the public to evaluate the proposed project and its environmental effects.

How does the public participate in the EIR process?
After the Draft EIR (DEIR) was prepared, it was released for public review for 45-days. The DEIR was placed in local libraries and posted on the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport website to make it available for review.

Written comments were submitted by the public during this period. Interested citizens and public agencies had until September 19, 2011 to review the DEIR and submit written comments for consideration by the County of Sonoma. During the public review period, the County of Sonoma held a public meeting and one noticed public hearing before the County of Sonoma Planning Commission, to allow the Planning Commission and interested parties and agencies to voice their opinions regarding the adequacy of the DEIR. For a list of public meetings and hearings related to the EIR and Master Plan Update process please visit Public Information Meetings.

What happens to the public comments that are received?
The CEQA process requires a lead agency to respond to each written comment received during the DEIR review period. Each individual comment is evaluated for relevance to the DEIR and a response is prepared. In some instances, a comment may result in revision to the DEIR. The collection of comments and responses together with the DEIR constitute what is called the Final EIR (FEIR). The FEIR must then be certified by the lead agency as adequate and in compliance with CEQA before a project can be approved.

On January 24, 2012, the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors took final action and approved certification of the Environmental Impart Report (EIR) and approved the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport Master Plan and related General Plan and Zoning amendments.

What happens at the conclusion of the Final EIR?
After the public comment period for the DEIR closed, the County of Sonoma responded to comments and prepared the Final EIR (FEIR), that includes all written comments received regarding the project’s environmental impacts. The Response to Comments was prepared as a separate document from the DEIR. The FEIR consists of the DEIR and the Response to Comments document and any revisions made as a result of public comments. It was presented to the Planning Commission where they voted to recommendation the project to the Board of Supervisors (BOS). The FEIR was presented to the BOS on January 10, 2012, where a public hearing was conducted and straw votes taken.

On January 24, 2012, the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors took final action and approved certification of the Environmental Impart Report (EIR) and approved the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport Master Plan and related General Plan and Zoning amendments.

Project Objectives

What are the project objectives of the EIR?
The three key project objectives are to: 1) comply with the congressional mandate (Public Law 109-115) that owners or operators of commercial service airports with scheduled airline service be brought into conformance with FAA standards for Runway Safety Areas (RSAs) by 2015, 2) decouple the approach ends of Runways 14 and 19 and continue to meet the runway length requirements of existing commercial and general aviation aircraft and 3) provide sufficient runway length to accommodate regional jet operations.

What happens to the Airport if the project objectives are not met?
If the Airport does not complete the mandatory improvements to the runway safety area, the FAA could find the Airport in violation of its operating certificate. If this should occur the FAA has several options that they could employ, such as 1) fines for failure to meet standards; 2) require the Airport to shorten runways to a length that allows for the 1,000 feet of safety area beyond the end of the new runway length; 3) revoke the Airport’s part 139 certificate allowing commercial operations; 4) require reimbursement of previous grants that have been used to upgrade the Airfield; and 5) a combination of all of these items.

Failure to address the decoupling situation would not result in as drastic a response from FAA as the consequences for failing to bring the RSA up to standards, as this is not congressionally mandated. This situation could continue to be an outstanding item on our safety reviews, which could be a potential liability concern if the County does not address the situation. Finally, the FAA could require other alternatives to decoupling, such as shortening runway 1/19.

The third primary objective to have runway lengths that can accommodate regional jet aircraft would not be met, and the Airport would not be able to meet the air transportation needs of the community by securing commercial service to points such as Salt Lake City, Denver and Phoenix, as the carriers for these destinations prefer to use regional jet aircraft in our market.

Environmental Impacts and Mitigation Measures

Will the EIR explain how this project may affect the natural environment and the community?
Potential effects to the environment were studied and presented in the DEIR. The DEIR identifies and evaluates measures to avoid, minimize and mitigate adverse impacts and describe the potential environmental effects of the proposed project and the steps that will be taken to alleviate them. Environmental review for the proposed project addresses the following resource areas: aesthetics, agricultural resources, air quality, biological resources, cultural resources, geology and soils, hazards and hazardous materials, hydrology and water quality, land use and planning, noise, safety and transportation and traffic.

What is the potential noise impact from the project and what is proposed to mitigate it?
The proposed project would result in changes to three types of noise: construction-related noise, aircraft-related noise, and traffic-related noise.

What are the types of aircraft that use the Airport now and what are the types of aircraft that would use the Airport in the future? What are the noise impacts associated with these aircraft?
The Airport is currently used by the full spectrum of general aviation (i.e., private or corporate) aircraft. The majority of operations are by single-engine piston aircraft. This will continue to be the case whether or not the proposed project is implemented. The types of general aviation aircraft currently using the airport include: single- and twin-engine piston aircraft; single-and twin-engine turboprops; and the full range of jets from the smallest corporate jet to the Boeing 737 business jet. Airline service is currently provided using twin-engine turboprops. The mix of aircraft types will be identical whether or not the project is implemented, except that regional airline jets would be unlikely to use the Airport without the proposed improvements.

Due to the runway extension, aircraft landing from the northwest will be about 40 feet lower than today, while those departing to the south will be about 40 feet higher. The difference in height above the ground will mean that individual aircraft operations associated with the main runway (Runway 14/32) will be slightly louder to the northwest and slightly quieter to the southwest. Except in areas close to the airport the difference in sound levels may not be noticeable to residents. The loudest sound levels will continue to be generated by the larger corporate jets. Although the various models of regional airline jets vary in their sound levels, as a group they are similar to the turboprop airline aircraft currently in use.

How are the aircraft noise impacts estimated?
The proposed project would result in changes to three types of noise: construction-related noise, aircraft-related noise, and traffic-related noise. The methods used for describing existing noise conditions and forecasting the future noise environment rely extensively on computer noise modeling. The noise environment is commonly depicted in terms of lines of equal noise levels, or noise contours.

The FAA’s Integrated Noise Model (INM) Version 7.0b was used to model aviation operations for the Airport for purposes of identifying the extent of aircraft noise exposure. The INM is a large computer program developed to plot noise contours for airports. The program is provided with standard aircraft noise and performance data for over 100 civilian aircraft types that can be tailored to the characteristics of an airport, as well as a database of military aircraft types. Version 7.0b includes an updated database that includes some newer aircraft, the ability to include run-ups in the computations, the ability to include topography in the computations, and the increased differentiation between different types of aircraft (civil, military, and helicopter). Noise contour files from the INM were loaded into the ArcView Geographic Information System (GIS) software for plotting and land use analysis.

The INM program requires the input of the physical and operational characteristics of an airport. Physical characteristics include runway coordinates, airport altitude, and temperature and, optionally, topographical data. Operational characteristics include various types of aircraft data. This includes not only the aircraft types and flight tracks, but also departure procedures, arrival procedures, and stage lengths (flight distance) that are specific to the operations at an airport. Aircraft data needed to generate noise contours include:

  • number of aircraft operations by type;
  • types of aircraft;
  • day/night time distribution by type;
  • flight tracks;
  • flight track and runway utilization by type;
  • flight profiles;
  • typical operational procedures; and
  • average meteorological conditions.

Does the noise model just include airport property, or does it also include the surrounding property? Does the model include approaches?
The noise models address the impacts that construction-related noise, aircraft-related noise, and traffic-related noise would have on areas in the vicinity of the Airport that could be affected. Thus, the noise analysis is not limited to Airport property. As part of the aircraft noise model, both arrivals and departures are included into the parameters used in the model.

Will the project require property acquisition and how is that handled?
Three parcels totaling about 22 acres would be acquired before 2015 to implement the project. These parcels are needed to develop the parallel taxiway and provide for a standard Runway Safety Area for Runway 14/32, and realign a portion of Airport Creek. The County hopes to continue its policy of acquiring property through voluntary sale by the owner. The sales price for the property is based upon formal appraisals to ensure that property owners receive full market value. Relocation assistance is also provided, if the property owner wishes. Some properties must be acquired for the project to be constructed. If a property owner does not wish to sell, the County will be forced to condemn the property. Even if the property is condemned, the property owner will still receive full market value and be offered relocation assistance.

What are the significant impacts associated with the project?
The Draft EIR identified four impacts that are considered to be significant and unavoidable. These impacts are: (1) operational increases in Greenhouse Gas emissions in 2030; (2) loss of Airport Creek wildlife movement corridor for large mammals; (3) short-term construction noise impacts; and (4) U.S. 101 freeway operation for 2030. All other impacts identified in the Draft EIR can be mitigated to a less-than-significant level.

What permits will be required for this project to be implemented?
Permits and approvals that would be required for the implementation of the proposed project include the following: (1) General Construction Stormwater Permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board; (2) General Industrial Stormwater Permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board; (3) Section 404 Permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; (4) Section 401 Permit from the Regional Water Quality Control Board; (5) 1602 Permit from the California Department of Fish and Game; (6) Amended Airport Permit from the State of California Division of Aeronautics; (7) Approval of Airport Master Plan from County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors; and (8) Approval of Amendments to the Air Transportation Element from County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors.

Master Plan

What is the Airport Master Plan?
An Airport Master Plan is a study used to determine the long-term maintenance and development requirements for an airport. The 2030 Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport Master Plan includes a variety of project elements that would be implemented at the Airport over the course of the next twenty years. The AMP includes projects related to maintaining and improving Airport safety, and maintaining and upgrading Airport facilities.

How does the Airport Master Plan relate to the proposed project and the EIR process?
The proposed project is the implementation of the 2030 Airport Master Plan (AMP). The project elements in the AMP are the focus of the EIR document that is required by CEQA. The EIR describes the proposed project, the existing environmental conditions, the impacts from construction and operation of the proposed project as well as mitigation measures to reduce or eliminate impacts.

What is the goal or purpose of the Airport Master Plan?
The primary goal of an airport master plan is to provide guidance for future airport development, which will provide the facilities needed to satisfy forecast demand, while at the same time balancing the need for airport improvements with local concerns.

What is the time period covered by the Airport Master Plan?
An Airport Master Plan typically covers a twenty (20) year time period. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends that airport owners or sponsors, such as the County of Sonoma, update airport master plans every 10 years. The previous Master Plan for STS was completed in 1998.

What are the components of an Airport Master Plan?
The components of an airport master plan are established by the FAA. They include an inventory, surveys, and data collection; aviation activity forecasts; demand and capacity analysis; determination of facility requirements; identification of issues; development of alternatives and concepts; a financial plan; environmental review/analysis; an implementation plan; and the updating of Airport Layout Plan (ALP) documents in accordance with Federal airport operating and design standards.

Why is the STS Master Plan being updated?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends updating Airport Master Plans every 10 years. The County initiated this master plan update to plan for the safe and efficient operation of STS, while addressing airport improvement needs as well as community concerns.

Who directs the development of Sonoma County Airport?
The County of Sonoma, as the owner and operator of the Sonoma County Airport, determines how STS will be developed. The FAA provides guidance in order to ensure that proposed airport facilities meet important safety standards.

Does the Master Plan update forecast greater levels of activity than the forecasts that were used for the Air Transportation Element (ATE) or the Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP)?
No. The Master Plan update actually forecasts lower numbers of based aircraft, lower levels of aircraft operations, and lower numbers of passengers than the forecasts that were used for the General Plan Air Transportation Element (ATE) and the Sonoma County Comprhensive Land Use Plan (CLUP). A comparison of the three forecasts is provided below*:

 

Does the Master Plan update call for an expansion of the number of aircraft and level of activity at STS beyond the limits that were adopted in the Air Transportation Element (ATE)?
No. The draft Master Plan update does not forecast or call for an expansion of the number of aircraft or the level of activity at STS beyond the limits that were adopted in the Sonoma County General Plan Air Transportation Element (ATE).

What types of improvements are analyzed in the draft Airport Master Plan update for STS? How were these improvements identified?
The Master Plan consultant analyzed existing facilities and forecast demand for a twenty-year period into the future. Several facility requirements were identified for STS, including extensions of runways 14 and 19, construction of a runway 32 service road, construction of an aircraft rescue and firefighting building, construction of a terminal, rehabilitation of apron areas, relocation of the Air Traffic Control Tower, installation of lights on runway 1-19, and several other projects necessary to maintain current facilities. Several alternative scenarios were developed using various layouts and locations for development. The various recommendations will be analyzed with the goal of maximizing safety and operational efficiency, while minimizing costs and environmental impacts.

Was the proposal to lengthen the runways and add new facilities made to accommodate larger or noisier aircraft at STS?
No. Longer runways are needed to accommodate 50 to 99-seat Regional Jet (RJ) aircraft. Most airlines wishing to provide service to our community would use Regional Jets, which are suited to our market. RJs are quiet technology aircraft that meet the limits established in the ATE. Due to the performance characteristics of some of the RJs, longer runways are needed in order to (1) provide service at STS, and (2) to increase the number of destinations available from STS.

Why were the new runway lengths chosen?
The runway lengths chosen by the County for further study are a compromise. Longer runways could have been justified based on historical temperatures and their effect on aircraft performance.

Who will pay for projects recommended in the Master Plan?
There will be no direct costs to the taxpayers of Sonoma County because airport development is paid for through a mix of both federal and local airport funds. These funds include Airport Improvement Program (AIP) Funds from the FAA. AIP Funds are derived from taxes on national and international travel, air cargo taxes, and noncommercial aviation fuel. Ultimately, it is the users of STS who fund the local share for improvements through rent, fees, passenger facility charges and purchases at STS.

Currently, funding for the majority of the projects is as follows:

What are the largest aircraft currently operating at STS?
Currently, Gulfstream 500s, Global Express jets, and the Boeing Business Jet, (a version of the Boeing 737), are the largest aircraft that operate at STS. These jets are among the quietest aircraft that use STS. These modern aircraft are used for corporate/business activity and have wingspans of approximately 115 feet. Larger aircraft are not anticipated at STS in the future because of runway weight restrictions.

Why is Runway 14/32 the most utilized for takeoffs and landings at STS?
At STS, Runway 14/32 is the preferred runway for takeoffs and landings for the following reasons:

  • Runways are selected based on their alignment with the prevailing wind conditions for that particular area, and our prevailing wind conditions favor this runway.
  • Runway 32 is equipped with an Instrument Landing System (ILS). This allows landings on Runway 32 to occur under lower-visibility conditions.
  • Runway 1-19 does not have lights or any precision landing aids.

When will the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) be available for comment?
The comment period closed on Monday, September 19, 2011.

When will the Board of Supervisors vote to certify the Master Plan update?
It is anticipated the Board of Supervisors may take a final vote to certify the Master Plan update in December 2011.

Will there be more airplanes at STS as a result of the Master Plan update?
The Master Plan update itself does not cause or result in an increase in aviation activity, however the Master Plan update does forecast an increase in aviation activity. As noted above, the draft Airport Master Plan update forecasts lower numbers of based aircraft, lower levels of aircraft operations, and lower numbers of passengers than the forecasts used for the Sonoma County General Plan Air Transportation Element (ATE) and the Sonoma County Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP).

What is the purpose of purchasing additional land around STS?
The purpose of purchasing additional land is to protect the approaches to the runways and to provide a noise buffer.

Will Alaska Airlines or other airlines increase the number of flights at STS?
STS continues to talk with Alaska and other airlines about adding new destinations to the schedule. Currently Alaska provides service to Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, and Seattle. There is great demand for service to an eastern hub like Denver, Salt Lake City, or Phoenix, both as destinations and for the connectivity. Las Vegas is also on the list of desired destinations.

Does the proposed runway extension go over Airport Creek?
The runway extension itself does not go over Airport Creek; however, the extended runway safety area will go over the creek and necessitate the culverting of approximately 1,200 to 1,500 lineal feet of Airport Creek. Note that there will be no impact to Mark West Creek as a result of the Master Plan Update and runway extension.

How do I comment on the Master Plan update?
The comment period closed on September 19, 2011, and the Airport Master Plan was approved by the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors on January 24, 2012.

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Cost, Funding, and Economics

What is the cost and status of funding for the project?
The current estimates for the runway safety area improvements, runway extensions, taxiway changes, service road installation and relocation of the Airport’s instrument landing system localizer equipment is $41 million. This estimate does include the design, construction management, land acquisition, mitigation costs, construction and a reimbursable agreement with the FAA for the relocation of the localizer. There are no funds currently obligated for this project, and if approved, the funds would be through grants issued in Federal fiscal year 2012 and 2013. No funding commitments can be made until federal and state environmental approvals are obtained.

What are the sources of the funding for the project?
95% of the funding is anticipated to come from grants from the Federal Aviation Administration. The balance of funding will come from Airport revenues. No County General Fund revenues will be used. For the Airport’s share of the costs, it is anticipated that the Airport would seek a CalTrans Aeronautics loan for the match, and then pay the loan through passenger facility fees.

What is the economic impact of the project?
The impact from the five flights operated by Alaska Airlines generates $112 million in direct and in-direct economic impact and approximately 414 jobs in the community. Should the project be approved, airlines agree to serve this market and the 12 daily departures identified occur by 2015, then an additional $170 million economic impact would occur with an additional 479 jobs created in the community. In addition, to the economic impact from air service, the tenants at the Airport currently generate over $1.4 million in taxes for the County general fund, school districts and special districts per year.

Schedule
What is the schedule for the EIR process?
The EIR process is complete. On January 24, 2012, the County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors took final action and approved certification of the Environmental Impart Report (EIR) and approved the Charles M. Schulz – Sonoma County Airport Master Plan and related General Plan and Zoning amendments.

When will the construction period be for the project?
Most of the short-term project elements are associated with the extension of the runways, the provision of the runway safety areas, and the ancillary projects that would enable the runway extensions to occur. These projects are proposed to begin in summer 2013. The projects will be completed in two phases. It is anticipated the runway extension may be completed by fall 2014.

When is the expected project completion date (assuming approval of the project)?
It is expected that the short-term project elements would be completed prior to 2015. The long-term project elements are expected to be developed between 2015 and 2030.

Comment

How do I comment on the Draft Environmental Impact Report?
The comment period closed on September 19, 2011.

What public meetings will be held as part of the DEIR review process?
After its August 5, 2011, release date, the DEIR wa circulated for 45 days for review and comment by the public and other interested parties, agencies and organizations. During this period there was an open house meeting and one planning commission meeting where public comments were accepted. The public comment period closed on September 19, 2011.