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County, LADWP celebrate long-awaited airport lease

April 19, 2011

LADWP Aqueduct Manager Gene Coufal addresses a crowd of dignitaries at the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport in Bishop Monday as Inyo County and LADWP celebrate the signing of a perpetual easement lease at the airport. Photo by Mike Gervais

Years of cooperative effort between Inyo County and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power paid off this week with a lease signing that gives local government greater control over the land it uses at the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport.
During a presentation Monday at the airport, L.A. Department of Water and Power signed a lease agreement with the county for more than 600 acres at the airport in Bishop that’s valid “in perpetuity.”
The move, in the works for years, ensures the county is eligible for grant funding for maintenance and improvements through the Federal Aviation Administration.
According to LADWP Aqueduct Manager Gene Coufal, a typical lease agreement from the LADWP is for 40 years. But because the airport expanded periodically over the last 50 years, various lease agreements were in effect for different areas of the airport land – creating a hodgepodge of lease lengths and expiration dates.
The arrangement did not suit the county’s needs at the airport, as the FAA requires at least a 20-year lease in place before it can consider grant applications for airport improvements.
County Administrative Officer Kevin Carunchio said FFA public safety grant funding can now be used for runway maintenance and to “pave the way for commercial flights.”
“We got together to find out what could work and we came up with this easement,” Coufal said. “This is a pretty special thing because of the cooperative spirit that went into it. It really was a cooperative effort.”
Because LADWP policy typically calls for 40-year leases, there was literally years worth of red tape for the county and LADWP officials to cut through, but the end result is a perpetual agreement that gives Inyo County property rights and permission to handle all improvements and upgrades on the 600-plus acres of the airport, as long as those improvements are airport related.
On Monday, Second District Supervisor and Board Chair Susan Cash, whose district includes the airport, said the Eastern Sierra Regional Airport is a vital part of the community that receives daily flights delivering mail, allows for emergency flights for injured residents and serves as a hub for travelers entering and leaving the Eastern Sierra.
In 1929 when the Bishop Airport was originally developed, the LADWP granted to Inyo County an easement on 198 acres east of Bishop for airport use. Over the years, especially during World War II, the size of the airport was expanded. To accommodate the expansion, and every time the airport grew, the LADWP and Inyo County were required to enter into lease negotiations.
Former County Public Works Director Mike Conklin, who spent years working with LADWP to secure the lease, said that with the new lease in place, county officials can now begin exploring some of the grant opportunities available and begin working to make the necessary improvements needed to seek FAA approval for commercial operations at the airport.
“This is truly a momentous occasion for our community,” Carunchio said during Monday’s presentation. “What a true team effort it has been to get to this point. The county now has tenure over the whole airport complex, so we can go out and get those FAA grants.”

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