By Deb Murphy

With Bishop Airport improvements completed, work groups formed and future plans itemized, the question remained: “if we build it, will people use it.” That piece fell into place with the Draft Phase 2 Traffic Study completed by Leigh/Fisher indicating “they probably will.”

Inyo County Public Works Director Clint Quilter summarized the highlights of the study at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting. The study included a letter of interest from Allegiant Air proposing two 156-seat A319 flights a week from Oakland, Los Angeles and Phoenix. The letter also referred to the suggestion from community representatives that subsidies would be a possibility.

But, before the County launches into a three-phased project to ready the airport for passenger traffic, Quilter is getting a second opinion from additional consultants to verify the optimistic Leigh/Fisher draft. The price tag on the build out comes to $23 million, $20 million of which will come from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The rosy picture is based on a series of assumptions, basically that existing tourism, economic, etc. trends continue their upswing. It was also based on Mammoth Lakes Airport continuing its current passenger operations. In other words, there’s no real battle for the title of The Eastern Sierra Airport. “This makes the numbers more robust,” said Quilter, referring to what is a conservative estimate of splitting the tourists between two airports.

The numbers come with the caveat that all assumptions ring true and nothing bad happens. That being said, the study predicts operations and passengers quadrupling in a four-year short term and continuing to rise over the next 17 years.

The discrepancy between the number of ski days at Mammoth Mountain (third behind Vail and Aspen but ahead of Steamboat Springs, Telluride, Sun Valley and Kalispell/Glacier National Park) and the number of those skiers who arrived by plane  (Mammoth was a very feeble last) indicates a huge growth potential for both Mammoth and Bishop airports.

Quilter admitted to being “pretty excited. He ran through the next steps: the forecasts will be reviewed by the FAA, staff will look at estimates and costs in addition to airline and Transportation Safety Administration requirements.

In other action, the Board approved the first reading of an amended ordinance banning mobile businesses operating in the County’s right-of-way. The amendment would open the possibility of a permitting process that could allow the practice.

The question was raised by Supervisor Matt Kingsley in response to complaints on a 30-foot Airstream trailer parked on Whitney Portal Road at the intersection of U.S. Highway 395 in Lone Pine. Mary Scudder, a business partner in Two-Foot Adventures and Mt. Whitney Gear, explained the operation sold hiking equipment to Pacific Crest Trail hikers and had gone to Inyo’s Planning Department to make sure there were no issues. She was told there were no issues, but apparently there were after the operation opened 12 days ago.

“This isn’t really about parking,” she told the Board. “It’s about protecting one business over another.” She wasn’t happy.

Dustin Hardwick of High Sierra Outfitters pointed out the existence of four sporting goods stores on the same side of the street in downtown Lone Pine. “We’re all surviving,” he said, “But parking is an issue.”

For other merchants and residents, the issue was creating a level playing field. Donna Carson pointed out other shops paid rent and taxes and supported the Chamber and other community organizations. Tod Vogel, the owner of Wilson’s in Bishop, said the “rent free” status of Mt. Whitney Gear was a gift from the County.

But the fact remained, the county and state had no ordinance to prohibit the re-trailer. California Highway Patrol Capt. Tim Noyse told the Board “there is nothing to enforce, there is nothing we will do.”

So, the Board approved the first reading of an ordinance brought forward by County Counsel Marshall Rudolph prohibiting the practice but allowing for a permit once regulations, possibly similar to Bishop’s food vendor permitting process, were developed.

The ordinance could go into effect 30 days following the second reading at a future Board meeting.

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