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8:26 AM Fri, Sept. 21st

Embry-Riddle pushes airstrip plans<BR>Residents fear collision with lifestyle

CHINO VALLEY – An ad hoc committee met this past week to discuss its concerns about a proposed airfield that some say could threaten the tranquility of the Garchen Buddhist Institute and the peaceful lifestyle of nearby property owners.

Notice of the proposed airfield came about after a property owner in the Chino Valley area received a letter from Perkins Ranch, Inc.

The letter says the ranch will lease a small portion of the ranch to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) to locate the Michael A. Perkins Auxiliary Field – a touch-and-go strip for student takeoffs and landings – near Perkinsville and Narrow Gauge roads.

This past week property owner and veterinarian Art Fetter, who chairs the Citizens for the Preservation of Lonesome Valley, along with fellow committee members, sat down with ERAU officials to discuss the impacts an airfield could have on area properties.

Fetter also cited what he perceived as a lack of public disclosure related to the proposed airfield.

Fetter said that ERAU firmly "held their ground" that the airstrip plans will move forward and that the outcome looks "unsuccessful" for the committee's plans to come to a compromise regarding the location of the airfield.

Fetter said it seemed that ERAU was "passing the buck" to the town and the Perkins family regarding the committee's concerns.

Chino Valley Town Manager Carl Tenney explained his position.

"All we have is a pre-development agreement that acknowledges certain non-conforming uses – one a sand and gravel operation and the other a landing field," Tenney said regarding the airfield plans.

He said both of those uses are grandfathered in, as historical clauses, within the Perkins Ranch area.

The town already annexed most of that land, Tenney said.

"There will be ample discussion in the future and plans are premature at this point since the Perkins family and ERAU have not come forward yet … all we've done is approve the development pre-annexation agreement," he said.

The land exchange agreement placed on the Feb. 13 council agenda was for the re-alignment of a portion of Perkinsville Road and paving to Old Home Manor.

"Chino Valley is looking at commercial and industrial uses for that land," he said.

"It's premature," he said, "until a specific proposal comes forward."

According to the pre-annexation agreement the Perkins Ranch is annexed and those owners "shall have the right to develop part of the property in the future subject to town planning and zoning review" and "the remainder shall maintain its agricultural status."

Perkins Ranch owner Tom Perkins has believed all along that an airfield will benefit the university students and alleviate the air traffic to the Prescott Airport.

"We're trying to do our best to not bother anybody," Perkins said.

Perkins said this location is best for those ERAU students, namely because of the convenience of the proposed airstrip.

The landing area will be fenced and most of the time those students will not use the full runway, Perkins said.

"This (airstrip) is a great thing for the tri-city area," Perkins said, and added that the flight plans will not affect the Garchen Institute.

"We've been looking at this landing strip for several years," Perkins said, dating back to the time when he allowed the town to annex his land.

Perkins said ERAU would pay for the building and maintenance of the airfield and lease the land from the ranch.

An ERAU public affairs representative confirmed that officials plan to conduct noise level surveys within the next couple of weeks, as the weather allows.

Also, Gwen Raubolt confirmed that ERAU officials formally could approach the Chino Valley Town Council within the month about the proposed airstrip plans.

Students still are using the Seligman airstrip but only for dual uses – meaning a certified flight instructor must be with the student pilot – and for touch-and-go flights only, she said.

"It's a long way…we don't use it a lot," Raubolt said.

The county pays a small percentage of maintenance and improvement costs toward the Seligman airport that is used by ERAU students, the State Land Department, and Arizona Department of Transportation Intermodal Transportation Division.

Contact Briana Lonas at blonas@prescottaz.com or 445-8179, ext. 1104.