Click photo to enlarge
The airport control tower looms in the background as ranchers Ray Franscioni, right, and Kevin Silacci exit a helicopter at Salinas Municipal Airport on March 15.

Salinas' airport tower will close because of federal sequestration cuts, the Federal Aviation Administration announced Friday.

The tower was on the final list of towers to lose funding because of $85 billion in spending cuts approved by Congress on Thursday.

The California Farm Bureau and the county Agricultural Commissioner's Office had voiced opposition to the plan because they said it would slow down helicopters and small aircraft that provide pest control and crop management.

"We heard from communities across the country about the importance of their towers and these were very tough decisions," Transportation Secretary Secretary Ray LaHood said in a news release. "Unfortunately we are faced with a series of difficult choices that we have to make to reach the required cuts under sequestration."

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, sent a last-minute letter Wednesday to the FAA that said a decision to close the tower would be "unconscionable" without consideration of the economic impacts to the region's agricultural industry.

Farr said Friday afternoon that irresponsible cuts, like the Salinas Municipal Airport tower, were the reason he opposed sequestration in the first place.

"The inability of Republican leaders in Congress to reach a deal with President Obama has forced the federal government to make too many unnecessary cuts based on arbitrary thresholds," he said in a news release.


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Norm Groot, executive director of the county Farm Bureau, said Friday his organization was disappointed with the FAA's decision.

"This will have impacts on the local economy and individual farm operators," he said.

The Salinas tower employed six people, according to airport manager Brett Godown.

He said earlier in the week the airport would be "able to make do" because pilots are trained to operate without towers using radio frequencies and other techniques.

The FAA will begin a four-week phased shutdown of the 149 towers on the closure list April 7.

Farr said he plans to meet in coming days with the FAA, along with agricultural leaders, to "find a solution that will help mitigate some of the potential damage created by the agency's decision."

The tower's closure will "in no way" affect the California International Airshow Salinas in September, according to the show's executive director, Bruce Adams.

He said the show hires its own "air boss" to coordinate flights.

Phillip Molnar can be reached at 646-4487 or pmolnar@montereyherald.com. Twitter:

@PhillipMolnar


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