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FAA Will Require Landing-Zone Pact With Skydive Firm Before Lompoc Motorsports Parks Can Proceed

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has notified the city of Lompoc that Skydive Santa Barbara and the developer of a proposed motorsports park must reach agreement on a new landing area for parachutists before it will approve the use of Lompoc Airport property. 

Planning Manager Lucille Breese told City Council members Tuesday night that FAA officials said the agency will not proceed with required federal environment work on the project until the operator of the skydiving service agrees to a new landing zone that also meets FAA guidelines. 

Owner David Hughes has operated a skydiving service at the airport for about 19 years, bringing in 8,300 first-time skydivers in 2015. Last month, Hughes said if the motorsports park is built, he may be forced to shift his business to Santa Maria Public Airport.

Breese said the landing area currently used for skydiving is planned for use by the motorsports park in the project’s proposed site plan under review. 

“There is going to have to be additional negotiations. We are going to have to have an agreement,” Breese said. 

The state’s mandatory draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project released in late June also noted “inconsistencies with the proposed project operations and the Skydive Santa Barbara operations.” 

Recommended mitigation measures included the identification of an alternative skydiving landing zone that would not interfere with airport operations, and possible limitations on when skydiving activities could take place.

News of the FAA’s requirement to reach an agreement with Skydive Santa Barbara appeared to catch council members by surprise. 

Councilman DeWayne Holmdahl asked what would happen if negotiations over a skydiving landing area reached an impasse. 

City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said he believed the developer of the proposed motorsports park — Lompoc Valley Park, Recreation and Pool Foundation (LVPRPF) — and Hughes could reach an agreement. 

“I remain confident we can find a workable solution that’s compatible for all parties.” Wiemiller said. “So far, we haven’t been able to identify though what that solution is that’s going to be agreeable to all parties. I remain optimistic, but my optimism isn’t worth squat.”

“I’m not sure how we can proceed with the project if we don’t get FAA approval, and we’re only going to get that, it seems, if they come to an agreement,” Wiemiller said.

In July, Hughes told Noozhawk that, “Basically, if they build the motorsports park, it will restrict our landing area so much at Lompoc Airport that we will be forced to move to Santa Maria.”

However, John Linn, LVPRPF chairman, said Wednesday that the proposed project’s site plan “provides a larger landing area than he (Hughes) previously had. It does that by taking out bushes next to the embankment and moving the gravel road next to the embankment.”

“I’m sure we can work it out. We just need to know what the (FAA) rules are,” Linn said.

Hughes could not be reached for further comment. 

Councilman Victor Vega asked if the FAA’s requirement to reach an agreement on the landing zone would put the city at a higher risk of missing a deadline to receive reimbursement from a $1 million state grant it was awarded nearly three years ago.

But Breese said there is no additional risk to the city because the state grant only requires the city to certify the final EIR by April 2017.

The process of completing the federal requirements —  an updated airport layout plan and a federal environmental review — necessary to receive FAA approval is on a separate track from the EIR certification.

Public comment on the draft EIR closed Monday and the city received 70 responses from reviewing agencies and the public, Breese said. Meridian Consulting, the EIR consultant, is preparing responses to all comments and the final EIR is expected to be brought back to council in October.

The proposed motorsports park would be built on 38 acres of airport land near the Santa Ynez River and includes the phased development of off-highway vehicle tracks, pit areas, motocross arenas, grandstands, a ⅛-mile drag strip, and a permanent structure for vehicle storage.

In other business, the council voted 5-0 to direct city staff to return with a revised and simplified draft city ordinance incorporating existing state privacy laws and federal regulations governing the use of unmanned aircraft, including drones, to protect individual privacy and public safety.

The council action came after Joyce Howerton of Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s office reported that her legislation, Senate Bill 858, to regulate drones failed to pass a state Assembly committee hearing and would be dropped. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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