In February, flood waters from the Santa Clara River tore a large chunk out of the runway at Santa Paula Airport (SZP) in Southern California. Now the taxiway has been closed to create a makeshift runway, allowing the airport to reopen.
“Essentially, we got permission from the California Department of Transportation to build a 2,000-foot runway between the old runway and the taxiway,” explains Albert Quinn, an airport spokesman. “Of course that meant closing the taxiway, so we have to back taxi, but at least that means the airport is open again to local traffic.”
Getting the privately owned, public use airport open again is a high priority, says Quinn. Of the 26 businesses at the airport, seven have hit financial crisis mode since the flood closed the field to air traffic.
“The guy that runs the paint shop had to lay off all his employees,” he says. “A lot of the businesses are really suffering.”
The problems began in January when the flooding river, which runs parallel to the airport, eroded a jetty abeam the runway. Without the jetty, the airport had no protection from the rain-swollen river. In February, fast-moving water swallowed 155 feet of the 2,650-foot runway.
Since the airport is privately owned, it is not eligible for state or federal grants to make repairs. Instead, the 107 airport owners hired private contractors to pour tons of rock and gravel along the edge of the runway to prevent further erosion.
Ironically, the airport was created in the 1920s after another flood leveled the land.
Quinn said it is his understanding that the Natural Resources Conservation Service has plans to repair the creek bank, but not the airport.
“We’re on our own,” he said.
Damage estimate is in excess of $5 million.