Trimming Down Castle's Runway Is Just Plain Stupid

By  John Derby
Times Publisher
September 8, 2016

Of all the ideas we have ever heard, reducing the length of Castle Airport’s runway to allow for more industrial development space is the stupidest.
Castle Airport’s lack of development is not due to the length of its airstrip. Actually, the length of the airstrip (11,800 feet) could be the one most important asset to drive the future economy of the airport.
A new county government plan calls for cutting it back to 10,000 feet, as reported in the Times last week.
Right now, the airport should be the base for giant bombers carrying fire retardant which would inundate the forest fires before they get too big to manage. It also should provide more flights of full size jets bringing passengers to see one of the greatest wonders of the world, Yosemite National Park.
Castle Airport’s problem, since the base was closed in 1995, has been failed management. It had terrible management under the JPA of Atwater, Merced City and Merced County — and management in recent years has only improved a little because there isn’t as much bickering going on.
The airport property has been a testimony of one failure after another. The telecommunications Call Center which was supposed to provide 1,500 jobs was the biggest failure, giving free rent to a multinational corporation without locking in the longterm jobs.
At the same time, business after business literally made a joke out of renting from the JPA and the county. The rates paid for the utilities were a joke, and then the demands from Castle Airport Development, trying to force renters to put up for their own utilities, were a joke.
Bad faith deals were rampant, and buildings which could have been used were left vacant.
When the base closed, the military dorms left behind were reduced to something apparently not suitable for people sleeping on the street.
We know these things on a personal level because when our newspaper plant burned to the ground in a fire, we tried to rent, lease or buy a building at Castle. We were told nothing would meet our needs. We were thinking many of the buildings would have met our needs. We were not looking for the Taj Mahal. We just needed a press room.
One of the worst decisions made by the county was to force the Challenger Learning Center to close. This was one of the bright stars of Merced County, attracting hundreds of people to our area, especially school children learning about space.
Shame, shame, shame on the county supervisors who allowed this to happen.
The Challenger Center had set up federal funds which would have allowed it to continue without county financing, but the county sicked attorneys upon those volunteers of the Challenger Center like they were some kind of criminals.
Yes, there has been some progress. But it is far slower than need be.
The announcement that the county is doing something new by hiring a development firm is bunk. It has done it before without success.
What is lacking is financial backing, and nothing in the plan shows us how the county would intend to raise the money necessary to put in new infrastructure at Castle Airport. Nothing shows us how the county is going to raise the kind of money for finishing the Atwater-Merced Expressway to Castle.
Even the money which was available for such things as flightline lighting was poorly planned, and today, some light standards along the flightline are without any lights because the previous ones would blind the pilots when they were trying to land.
Using the Expressway as an excuse for Castle not developing is just that — an excuse.
“If you build it, they will come” seems like just another promise that's running on empty.
If you want to really know why Castle is a failure, just ask some of the business people who are out there.
It might seem from this editorial that we are down on Castle Airport.
This would be wrong, we have the deepest respect for Castle Airport and all the people who served in the Air Force at Castle.
While there are those who would sit down while our national anthem is being played, those who served at Castle can stand tall.
One day, we only wish that the airport would return Castle to its former glory.

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