Monday, August 1, 2016

Skydive Santa Barbara May Relocate to Santa Maria Airport if Lompoc OKs Motorsports Park

Owner of popular skydiving business cites concerns about restricted landing area if racetrack project is approved for Lompoc Airport site

A Skydive Santa Barbara airplane sits on the tarmac at the Lompoc Airport on Thursday. A proposed motorsports park on airport property may force the longtime business to shift operations to the Santa Maria Public Airport

Skydive Santa Barbara, a popular fixture at the Lompoc Airport since 2005, is looking to move its operations to the Santa Maria Public Airport if a proposed motorsports park is built, according to owner David Hughes.

“Basically, if they build the motorsports park, it will restrict our landing area so much at Lompoc Airport that we will be forced to move to Santa Maria,” Hughes told Noozhawk.

Hughes said he has received approval from Santa Maria airport officials to operate his skydiving business there.

“We started the process with Santa Maria about a year ago when they started to talk about the motorsports park and we realized it would be a factor for our business,” he said.

“They’ve offered us a hangar at Santa Maria and a large landing area to drop our students and run our business. We have permission to do that right now.”

The proposed motorsports park on Lompoc Airport land includes the phased development of off-highway vehicle tracks, pit areas, motocross arenas, grandstands, a ⅛-mile drag strip, and a permanent structure for vehicle storage.

According to the motorsports park​’​s draft environmental impact report, which was released June 27, “skydiving facilities located directly on or adjacent to the proposed project would create inconsistencies with the proposed project operations and the Skydive Santa Barbara operations.”

Mitigation measures recommended in the draft EIR include working with the developer — the Lompoc Valley Parks, Recreation and Pool Foundation — and Skydive Santa Barbara to identify alternative landing zones that would not interfere with airport operations.

Another mitigation measure in the draft report calls for restricting weekend skydiving landings to occur only when off-highway vehicle and drag racing events are not taking place.

But the draft EIR also points out that weekends will be the busiest time for all concurrent operations at the airport — motorsports, skydiving and airport activity — increasing the potential inconsistencies, safety issues and adverse impacts.

Chris Hastert, general manager of the Santa Maria airport, confirmed ongoing talks with Hughes about the possibility of relocating Skydive Santa Barbara’s operations to Santa Maria if the motorsports park is built.

“We have had some discussions with Mr. Hughes,” he said. “We have discussed some possible spaces, but we haven’t signed a contract.”

Hughes already has a permit in place to use the Santa Maria airport for skydiving operations. Skydive Santa Barbara has used the Santa Maria site a number of times, Hastert noted, including during the annual West Coast Piper Cub Fly-in at Lompoc Airport and when weather conditions in Lompoc prevent skydiving.

Hastert said Hughes’ skydiving operations are compatible with airport operations “90 percent of the time.”

“It’s extra aviation activity generated for the airport,” he said.

For now, Hughes said he is still waiting to see what happens with the motorsports park, describing the situation as complicated.

“I like the idea of (the motorsports park), I think the location is a little too close to town,” he said. “But as it’s planned right now, my landing area will be reduced so much that we could only allow expert jumpers.”

Last year, Hughes said, his business brought 8,300 first-time skydivers to Lompoc.

“I spend thousands of dollars every week advertising to get people to come to Lompoc,” he said. “We’re a significant skydiving school in the skydiving world. We do now have the fastest climbing skydiving plane in the world for a single-engine plane.

“I think we’re one of the biggest attractions in town.”

The project is currently in a mandatory period of collecting comments from the public and governmental agencies.

Following the close of the public review, Meridian Consultants, which prepared the draft report, will review and respond to all comments received. After the final EIR is prepared, it will be brought to the Lompoc Planning Commission for approval before the City Council will be asked to certify the document.

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