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Sierra Club decries SFO expansion plan Environmentalists say new runways will turn Bay shores into mud flats
February 06, 2001, 12:00 AM Jon Mays
The chair of the Sierra Club's San Francisco International Airport Expansion Task Force warned the San Mateo City Council last night that if the airport builds additional runways into the bay, the shore of the Coyote Point County Recreation Area will become a mud flat.

Richard Zimmerman, a former engineer and Sierra Club member, told councilmembers during their Monday evening study session that the bay shore just south of the airport turned into a mud flat when the current runways were constructed on bay fill.

If an airport proposal to expand its runways two miles to the south is implemented, Zimmerman said it will severely affect the Burlingame, San Mateo and County-owned Coyote Point shores as well.

"It will increase the size of the mud flat to Coyote Point," he said. "The Coyote Point Harbor will not be a yacht harbor anymore. ... Coyote Point will be diked off and silted in."

An expansion, Zimmerman maintained, would change the bay's natural circulation and create additional sediment miles to the south.

SFO claims it needs to reconfigure its runways because its two existing runways -- separated by a mere 750 yards -- are too close to both operate in inclement weather. During a shutdown, airport officials are forced to delay incoming flights.

SFO, the San Francisco Office of Environmental Review and the Federal Aviation Administration are in the midst of studying the impacts of a range of five expansion alternatives. A no-fill alternative would require the airport to look at reducing the number of flights while increasing the level of technological advancements such as improved radar and flight approach systems.

The most ambitious alternative, however, will require up to 107 million cubic yards of mud and will pave two square miles of the bay.

In San Mateo, Deputy Mayor Sue Lempert and Councilmember Jan Epstein expressed alarm that both Coyote Point and a redeveloped Shoreline Park to the south could bear the brunt of the proposed expansion.

"I never thought of the impact on Shoreline Park or Coyote Point," Lempert said. "If this does cause a concern with city and county facilities then we ought to know about it."

Primarily, Lempert said she is worried about San Francisco's long-standing reputation for ignoring the concerns of San Mateo County residents.

"There's a long history of San Mateo being concerned with its voice not being heard in regards to the airport," Lempert said. "There is a long history there."

County Counsel Tom Casey is currently looking into the possibility that the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will have jurisdiction over the airport expansion. To expand its runways, the airport must win approval from nearly 30 regulatory agencies. If San Mateo County is included in that jurisdiction, the city could then have some sway over what impact the expansion will have on surrounding communities.

Marion Weiler, a San Mateo Public Works Commissioner, is urging the City Council to take a more active stance in lobbying the regulatory agencies and protecting its shoreline from sedimentation.

"The city needs to take a look at the investment of the city of San Mateo such as the shoreline," he said. "We're putting our investments at risk."

Burlingame resident Joe Pennese said he is more concerned about the expansion's impact on Interstate 101 and his quality of life.

"They have these new airbuses that can hold 770 people. They can land two at a time at two times a minute -- you do the math," Pennese said. "I can't believe that they're all going to hop on BART and go up to the city. There's only one way in and one way out -- it's the freeway."

San Mateo resident Richard Sponholz had his own solution to the delay problem.

"The answer is a regional airport. The three airports [SFO, SJC and OAK] need to form a regional airport and put the central airport outside of the metropolitan area," he said.

A draft version of an environmental impact review of the proposed runway expansion alternatives is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. If the runway expansion is approved, airport officials estimate that construction could be complete as soon as 2006.

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