Rural California Airports Face Repair Delays Due to Los Angeles Opposition

( – Although many people will never see one, small airports often provide vital services to the surrounding areas. Local firefighting efforts, search and rescue operations and air ambulance services often operate out of these sometimes remote locations.

Inyo County, California, is home to two such rural airports which are crucial to such life-saving services. While sparsely populated, the area is large, covering over 10,220 square miles. The county encompasses popular destinations such as Death Valley National Park, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range, and the Owens River Valley. Due to a complicated history with the City of Los Angeles, and current lease agreements, these airports are unable to make critical repairs.

Much of the land in Inyo County is owned by the Los Angeles department of water and power (DWP) and then leased back to the county, its business owners, ranchers and residents. Surrounded by deserts, prone to drought, and home to approximately 3.8 million people, water is an ever-present concern for Los Angeles. Most of the land leases in Inoyo county have expired or will expire soon. Los Angeles DWP has been refusing to renew these leases as negotiations have broken down over demands that Inoyo county supply Los Angeles with more water.

If Los Angeles DWP does not renew the leases, they shift into holdover status. In these cases, tenants continue to make payments month to month but have no active lease. Ashley Helms of the Inyo County public works, says that updated and extended leases are required for the federal and state grants they need to pay for the necessary infrastructure work. Lone Pine Airport has cracks in one of their taxiways and extensive damage to a second one. Independence Airport, which has been a vital hub for fighting California wildfires, is also in disrepair with potentially dangerous cracks on their runway.

While their critical small airports are a serious problem, the lease issue extends to many other important public sectors. All but one of the county’s parks and campgrounds also have expired leases. The Eastern Sierra Transit Authority (ESTA) and two of the county’s landfills have also been gravely affected by their expired leases with Los Angeles DWP. Taxes both state and federal as well as lawsuits and countersuits have all created massive financial strain on both sides of the issue. A solution needs to be found and soon before the situation becomes dangerously unstable.

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