By Deb Murphy
Some key issues were under discussion last week. First Eastern Sierra Council of Governments:
The Council, made up of two representatives from Inyo and Mono counties and the cities of Bishop and Mammoth Lakes, approved the Joint Power Agreement that would give it, primarily, the ability to pursue grant funding for regional issues.
All four entities have already agreed to fund the staff work to draft the agreement. Now all four have to approve the final JPA.
ESCOG members will now bring the document to their respective boards for approval. From Mono County Supervisor Bob Gardner’s perspective, ESCOG, functioning under a JPA, can deal with regional issues “more efficiently and more economically.”
Inyo Public Works staffer Ashley Helms gave an update on progress on the Bishop Airport, still focusing on a late 2020 timeline to be prepared for commercial air service. Environmental documents and infrastructure improvements are underway or completed and the department will start the community outreach process in late summer.
Mammoth Town Councilmember John Wentworth addressed the issue of subsidies. Currently, Mammoth Lakes subsidies commercial service coming into the Mammoth/Yosemite Airport during the ski season, basically paying for unfilled seats as a form of guarantee to United Airlines.
According to Mammoth Lakes Tourism’s John Urdi, the town’s Tourism Business Improvement District funds account for 80-percent of those subsidies with Transient Occupancy Taxes paying 20-percent.
“There’s a concern about using Mammoth’s TBID money in Bishop,” Wentworth said. “We need to get ahead of these questions.” He suggested the issue needed to be spelled out by legal staff. The issue is obvious but so far not addressed. Why should Mammoth pay for subsidies for empty seats landing in Bishop and why should Bishop/Inyo pay for subsidies for empty seats on flights full of Mammoth-bound skiers?
Another piece of this sticky pie is the fact Altera, owner of Mammoth Mountain, has had conversations with Inyo but not Mammoth Lakes.
Mono Supervisor Stacy Corless put the discussion in perspective: “We’re a region, damn it, we all need to deal with airport subsidies.
Inyo CAO Clint Quilter agreed. “We need to have this conversation sooner rather than later,” he said. “Air service benefits the region. Staff is ready for discussions with Bishop.” Quilter suggested staff work on the question prior to ESCOG’s August meeting.
Neither of the two Bishop representatives were at Friday’s meeting.
Thursday’s Owens Valley Groundwater Authority was primarily an update and overview from Daniel Stephens & Associates’, the plan consultant. The board did discuss the implications of the basin’s potential low priority by Water Resources but opted not to vote on the status of the OVGA until the state finalizes the new priorities.
The board also postponed adding new associate or interested parties to the board until the July meeting.
Dave Ceppos, Tim Moore and Stephens went through steps to come and the progress of collecting data from the OVGA entities, most of whom have not yet supplied that information.
Ceppos started his discussion of the Authority’s roles and responsibilities by stressing the importance of an exhaustive community outreach that had to go beyond the “usual suspects” that show up for meetings.
He ended by reminding the board that, while they represent their constituents, their goal on the OVGA was groundwater sustainability.