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Special Pollution Study Proposed for Santa Monica Airport
By Niki Cervantes
September 19, 2017 -- The Santa Monica Airport Commission is asking the City to approve a special study of how pollution levels change before, during and after SMO closes temporarily for work on significantly reducing the length, and impact on neighbors, of its sole runway.
First proposed by Airport Commissioner Suzanne Paulson, a UCLA professor and expert in analysis of pollutants in urban areas, the possible study is before the City, although whether it will garner financial or other support is not clear.
The commission sent its proposal to the City Council earlier this month, said Alan Levenson of Not Jets Santa Monica, one of the neighborhood groups in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica in the decades-long fight to close SMO to air traffic.
It is “critical,” though, to “rebutting the arguments of those who are claiming that aviation operations at the airport only improve the economy and quality of life in Santa Monica,” the board of Friends of Sunset Park said in emails on Monday to City Council members.
“Time is of the essence in this matter, as the closure dates for the runway are rapidly approaching and this one-time event offers the City a unique opportunity” to document pollution levels, the association’s email said.
As envisioned by the commission, the analysis would start before the runway is shortened.
A consent decree reached by the City Council and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in January shutters SMO by December 31 of 2028 ("City, FAA Agree to Close Santa Monica Airport in 2028," January 28, 2017).
But neighborhood groups in Santa Monica and West Los Angeles are concerned about the aeronautics industry’s fight -- including in court -- to keep the airport open as is ("Pro-Santa Monica Airport Aviation Group Finds Encouraging News in Court of Appeals Rejection," May 10, 2017).
The decree also allows the reduction of SMO’s runway in the interim, which is expected to slash operations by jets and thus reduce related pollution.
Work on the runway starts this fall, and will reduce its length from 4,973 feet to 3,500 feet ("Santa Monica City Council Approves Contract to Shorten Municipal Airport Runway," August 10, 2017).
Supporters said the runway work provides the advantage of a “natural experiment” in which the airport is closed for several days, allowing measurements of pollutants before, during and after closure, when operations resume.
In shortening the runway, the takeoff area moves by about 230 meters, Paulson said in her proposal to the council.
Under the proposal, the measurements would be conducted over approximately six weeks and would take place in three phases -- before, during and after the closure, she said.
The goal is to assess “real-world emissions of pollutants, including ultrafine particles and black carbon" for "business jets and other aircraft using Santa Monica airport.”
Council member Sue Himmelrich voiced support for conducting the study, saying it would provide the City with baseline, since the study would include the period when SMO was closed.
The study would “allow us to know the true air quality impact of the planes flying in and out of the airport,” she said.
An issue has been whether Paulson would conduct the study. Himmelrich said it would be “best that it not be performed by a current airport commissioner.”
Estimated cost to the City for the study is about $100,000, Levenson said.
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