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Chris Jones

Plans Outlined for Ivanpah Airport

20 October 2004

With an eye fixed a decade into the future, Southern Nevada's top aviation leader on Tuesday revealed new details of his department's vision and need for a second major passenger airport serving the Las Vegas area.

Clark County Aviation Director Randy Walker told the County Commission that passenger traffic at McCarran International Airport has fully recovered from the Sept. 11 terror attacks of three years ago. That resurgence, coupled with projected growth in local air traffic, will likely cause the Federal Aviation Administration to late next year begin the environmental impact study required to build a major international airport about 40 miles southwest of Las Vegas in Ivanpah Valley.

Plans call for a 1,925-acre airfield featuring dual runways, each approximately 1,400 feet in length, to handle large cargo aircraft, Walker said. About 1,400 acres would house a terminal complex, with another 2,500 acres reserved for third-party users such as cargo companies.

The county would also be entitled to manage adjacent lands totaling approximately 16,900 acres, a precaution designed to prevent incompatible development near the airport zone. Commissioner Lynette Boggs McDonald urged Walker to work closely with the city of Henderson and other communities that could abut the airport area.

"(Let's) begin that discussion today so that we can do things in an orderly, master-planned fashion versus a piecemeal fashion as we move into the future," she said.

Regardless of preplanning, the coming journey could have its share of bumps. Walker said the county has allocated four years to complete the environmental studies without disrupting Ivanpah's construction schedule. However, lawsuits recently forced the Port of Seattle to wait more than a decade to receive the OK to add a new runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, illustrating the potential pitfalls of airport-related development. Airports in Atlanta and Cleveland also experienced similar delays.

"We've got a time frame that should be adequate, but you never really know until you've actually done some of the preliminary work," Walker said.

Ivanpah's likely challenges include:

. Air pollution, which Walker said Tuesday "will be a significant issue."

. Extending utility lines to a largely desolate valley.

. Devising storm water plans for an airport planned amid a dry lake bed.

. Building atop poor soil in Ivanpah Valley.

. Minimizing the airport's effect on nearby plant and animal life.

. Coordinating flight patterns to work with McCarran.

Should the Ivanpah airport be approved in Washington, Walker said the county would immediately begin engineering and architectural design work. Once complete, the project's cost and financing plan would be presented to the commissioners. Pending their approval, the county would secure the 16,900 acres and begin building the airport.

The aviation department has spent about $3.25 million on surveys, preliminary environmental studies and early plans for the airport and its environs. That doesn't include the $20.7 million spent last July to secure the necessary 5,800 acres from the Bureau of Land Management.

The federal government would take back the Ivanpah land -- and refund the county's money less interest -- should the site be deemed inappropriate for an airport, Walker said.

Passenger traffic at McCarran has surged in 2004, and if current trends hold, the airport will exceed 40 million arriving and departing passengers this year, Walker said. Its previous record of nearly 36.9 million was set in 2000.

Based on projected annual growth of 2.7 percent, McCarran will reach its capacity of 55 million passengers per year by 2015. Maintenance requirements and other logistical limitations would likely drop capacity to about 53 million per year, Walker added.

The county is adding infrastructure to meet expected demands, but development around the 56-year-old airfield has effectively blocked a third east-west runway needed to accommodate more flights.

"We would have to ... take out the Hughes business park and close down that section of I-215," Walker said, referencing a map of densely developed land south of Sunset Road that would require clearing to build another runway. With understatement, he dismissed such plans as "not practical."