Seaplanes To Keep Flying

Aaron Singer, owner of Seaplane Adventures, addresses Marin County Planning Commission | photo by Larry Clinton  |  post by Brad Hathaway

The hearing room in Marin County’s Civic Center had something on Monday, August 28, that Commissioner Peter Theran said he’d never seen before: a standing-room-only crowd of interested citizens for a hearing of the Planning Commission.

The citizens were there to hear presentations and to express their views on the topic of the operating permit for Seaplane Adventures, the operator of the Commodore Marina Seaplane Base.

Some nearby homeowners from Strawberry, Tam Valley and adjacent areas had previously brought concerns over the seaplane operation to the attention of the Commission’s staff who, after researching the matter, recommended to the Commission that it in turn should recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the seaplane operator’s use permit be modified in a way that Seaplane Adventure owner Aaron Singer maintained would put the company out of business.

When Singer came to the podium to make his presentation a majority of the audience applauded and even stood for an ovation, while Commissioner Margot  Biehle, who chaired the hearing, gaveled for order.

That is not to say, however, that everyone in the hall was on the operator’s side. Those who object to the current level of operation of Seaplane Adventures made their case as well, citing environmental and safety concerns and arguing that the terms of the current use permit are being violated.

The seaplane base has operated from the same location at Commodore Marina since its founding by Bob Law in 1946. Current owner Singer points with pride to the fact that the company has not had a single incident in flight or on the water that resulted in injury, property damage or death in its 70 year history.

The Commission’s consideration centered around the six conditions in the current use permit, three of which the staff advised might not be enforceable because they would be in Federal jurisdiction rather than County. These three were the limit on approaches over Strawberry Point, the requirement that planes power down for approaches, and that sound levels be limited to 86 decibels.

The considerations in the permit which would be enforceable were: the base be used for arrivals and departures only, not for touch-and-go practices; that only the operator’s planes be allowed to use the facility, not visiting airplanes; and, no more than four planes be at the base at any time and only two may be in simultaneous use.

The staff had recommended new conditions to include a limit of six takeoffs and landings a day using planes of no more than eight passenger capacity, that operations be limited to 6:00 AM to 6:30 PM on weekdays and 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM on weekends and that the inlet between De Silva Island and Seminary Drive be off-limits to seaplanes.

The Commission made its decision at the completion of what turned out to be a four-and-a-half-hour hearing. It voted to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the operating permit be modified to remove the three conditions which might not be within the County’s jurisdiction, leaving the three existing conditions but not imposing any of the new conditions the staff had recommended.

Additional coverage: Marin commission rejects tighter regulations on seaplane business and a pointed editorial cartoon: George Russell: Richardson Bay seaplane has neighbors buzzing thanks to the Marin IJ.