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December 17, 2013

Public input sought on trimming trees near Modesto Airport

The city is soliciting public input on its plan to trim hundreds of trees around the Modesto Airport – including ones at Tuolumne River Regional Park – because they encroach into pilots’ air space.

The city wants to hear from the public on its plan to trim hundreds of trees around Modesto Airport – including ones at 500-acre Tuolumne River Regional Park – because they encroach into pilots’ airspace.

City officials and their consultant will hold a meeting Wednesday afternoon at Tenth Street Place to gather public input on the first phase of the project: trimming – and in some cases removing – 239 trees east of Mitchell Road and south and southeast of the Tuolumne River. The second phase involves trimming and in some cases removing trees at the regional park. The number of trees for phase two also is expected to be in the hundreds.

The project is being done in two phases because the Federal Aviation Administration will pay only for work involved with the 239 trees, even though all of the trees are in the airspace, said Steve Fischio, Modesto’s fleet, parking and streets manager, as well as interim airport manager.

Fischio said the city will pay for the second phase. He did not have an estimate for that cost but said the city will pay Environmental Science Associates about $49,000 to conduct the environmental impact report for the second phase. That company is the city consultant on the project and prepared the draft EIR for the first phase.

Fischio said the trees have grown into the FAA-regulated airspace surrounding the airport. He said as the trees continue to grow, they could affect the electronic instruments pilots use to land. The consultants said the airspace can be visualized as a bowl-shaped football stadium. Modesto Airport’s two runways are the field, and the airspace radiating up and outward from the runways is the stadium.

Fischio expects phase one to go before the City Council in January for approval and the environmental work on phase two to be completed by May. He added that the project should take more than a year to complete and run through spring of 2015.

The acting executive director of the Tuolumne River Trust said he encourages Modesto to be responsible in how it trims the trees in the regional park and how it plants trees along the river to replace those it removes.

“There are a lot of great, old valley oak trees in the park,” Patrick Koepele said. “They can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time for something that takes a long time to recover.”

Fischio said Modesto will work diligently to comply with the FAA’s airspace regulations while preserving as many of the regional park’s old trees as it can. He added that the city will pursue mitigation measures, such as planting trees, when it removes trees.

“It’s really a beautiful park,” he said. “We don’t want to butcher it.”

The draft environmental impact report for phase one calls for a host of measures to minimize the project’s impact on the environment, such as using hand tools to trim trees and installing protective fencing along the edges of nearby wetlands.

Modesto is a partner with Stanislaus County and Ceres in the 7-mile-long Tuolumne River Regional Park, which follows the river between Mitchell and Carpenter roads.

Wednesday’s meeting is at 5 p.m. in room 2001 at Tenth Street Place, 1010 10th St. Additional information about the project is available at /pwd/transportation/airport/notices.asp.

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