first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! SANTA PAULA – As a new rainy season approaches, officials are anxious to complete a $3.8 million wall of rocks to help protect Santa Paula Airport’s runway from the kind of erosion that occurred in February, when the Santa Clara River changed course during near-record rains. A contract for the work was awarded Friday and officials hope it will start this coming week. About 600 feet, or a third of the airport’s only runway, was washed away, and although it was restored by the end of July using sand dug out of the river channel, the new runway is also in danger of washing away. “We are working against the clock,” said Rowena Mason, the airport’s manager. “Unless we get some sort of (river) bank protection, any kind of flow that comes back and hits the airport will take that sand out. “We’ve been here for 75 years. This has never happened before. What’s happened is the river is still the way that it was when we were washed out.” Jeff Pratt, director of the Ventura County Watershed Protection District, said the rock barrier would probably have been finished already if not for delays over state demands for an environmental study. In October, a Ventura County Superior Court judge ruled that the county’s Watershed Protection District could go ahead with the project to protect the airport in spite of demands from the state for the environmental review. “We want to put in a rock covering on the soil slope,” Pratt said. “We’ve been proposing to put it in since March. We wanted to start putting it in in July and we would have been done by now. “The court said it was clearly an emergency project. All that earthwork (to restore the runway) is at risk if we don’t get it in quickly.” During the heavy rains last year, Pratt said, Santa Paula Creek spewed sediment into the Santa Clara River, helping to turn the river channel toward the airport. This caused part of the runway to wash away, and the threat still exists from the change in the direction in the river channel. The Watershed Protection District is being reimbursed up to $5 million from the federal National Resources Conservation Service to restore the eroded river bank, including the part where part of the airport runway was washed away. About $2 million has been spent on dredging a diversion channel in the river and using the sand to restore the airport land. But owners of the airport also have gone into debt trying to restore their airfield. “We are already $400,000 in debt to make the repairs we made. We have to protect that investment,” Mason said. Before the rock wall could be built, an agreement over property rights had to be reached with the nature conservancy that owns part of the land where the wall is being built. Mason said the wall along the river bank is being placed partly below ground and partly above, using giant rocks like those in jetties along the beach. Santa Paula Airport sits along the west bank of the Santa Clara River and offers an unusual environment that has attracted hundreds of pilots, including a number of celebrities. The airport has a small-town feel where children ride their bikes to watch the planes take off. Celebrities have kept planes there over the years, include actors Steve McQueen, Gene Hackman and Cliff Robertson. “It’s a wonderful airport,” Mason said. “We are one of the largest employers in the city of Santa Paula, employing over 100 people. During the 2003 fires that burned from Santa Clarita to the San Fernando Valley and from Santa Paula to Simi Valley, the Santa Paula airfield was used as a heliport to fight the fire. Since 1930, we have served the public.” The airport is owned by the 103 people who have acquired stock by buying hangars there. In the intense flooding of 1969, which washed out a number of roads in Ventura County, water covered parts of the Santa Paula Airport, but there was no damage to the riverbank. But this year, on Feb. 21, the 32-acre airport property began to erode and emergency crews began working with a convoy of dump trucks to build a diversion jetty with rocks and concrete. As crews worked, the river began eating up the runway at 1:30 a.m. the following day. There are 26 businesses operating at the airport with a total business value of over $21 million. That includes six repair facilities, Logsdon’s restaurant, a flight school and the Aviation Museum of Santa Paula. The airport has an annual estimated gross sales of $6 million. It is home to 300 aircraft of all types, including a large collection of antique and vintage aircraft. Eric Leach, (805) 583-7602 [email protected]last_img

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