The Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners has approved an $8.7-million contract for an environmental study that will look into a series of proposals for Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), including a potential reconfiguration of the north runways.

The airport commission voted unanimously Monday, January 14th, to award the three-year contract to Camp Dresser & McKee Inc.

Among the other airport proposals that are to be examined under the environmental study are the development of a ground transportation center, the installation of an automated people mover, a redesign of Terminals 1, 2 and 3 in the Central Terminal Area and on-site road improvements for the ground transportation center and people mover.

The environmental impact report process will also allow the airport to examine how to improve safety on the LAX north airfield, a major concern for the airport commission, said Val Velasco, commission vice president.

“The airport commission wants to figure out where we are going with the north-side complex,” Velasco told The Argonaut.

The study is needed to complete the LAX Specific Plan Amendment Study that is required by a lawsuit settlement agreement made between the city and plaintiffs including the county, Inglewood, El Segundo, Culver City and the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, according to an airport commission report.

The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the city in January 2005, challenging former Mayor James Hahn’s LAX Master Plan, which was approved by the City Council in the previous month. Under the settlement, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the city agency that operates LAX, is required to complete a Specific Plan study that examines “yellow light projects” from Hahn’s plan, such as the automated people mover.

“The legal settlement between LAWA and airport neighbors made a promise that we could turn LAX into a world-class airport, while protecting the surrounding communities and halting airport expansion,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the LAX area in the 11th Council District.

“Starting the environmental review process for a revised LAX Master Plan means it is time for LAWA to keep that promise.”

Another of the proposals includes a reconfiguration of the airport’s north runways. One potential reconfiguration option has been to move the northernmost runway closer to Westchester, a plan that has sparked strong opposition from neighbors in the community.

“We have made it very clear that we are adamantly opposed to moving the runways closer to our homes,” said Robert Acherman, vice president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion.

Such a plan would bring more aircraft noise to the community and could impact the central business district, according to the alliance.

Acherman noted that if the north runways are to be reconfigured, there are other options besides moving them closer to the Westchester and Playa del Rey neighborhoods.

“There are other alternatives that still could be considered,” Acherman said.

Other potential options would be to move the “inboard” takeoff runway south, or to operate only one runway on the north airfield, he noted.

Velasco said that while she voted in favor of awarding the contract for the environmental study, the vote did not mean that she was in favor of moving the north runway closer to Westchester.

Velasco has said that the airport commissioners are very concerned about safety on the north airfield. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report last month that found that there is a high risk for runway close calls at some national airports, including LAX.

But Denny Schneider, president of the Alliance for a Regional Solution to Airport Congestion, said that the report’s findings should not have an influence on moving the north runways.

“I can understand the desire for safety, but to reference the GAO report as the impetus for moving the runways is absurd because the GAO report doesn’t even mention moving the runways,” Schneider said.

Some airport neighbors said they wanted the airport to wait for an additional safety study on the north runways that was ordered by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). But an airport commission report said that the NASA report was delayed while the agency was undergoing a restructuring of its objectives.

Rosendahl said he, too, was disappointed that the airport commission moved forward with the environmental study before receiving an additional safety study.

“I am disappointed BOAC (Board of Airport Commissioners) chose to act now, before we have the results of the safety study we all agreed to,” Rosendahl said.

“I will insist that the findings of that study be incorporated into the environmental review, so that decisions are based on genuine safety information.

“I remain convinced that we can solve safety issues on the north airfield, modernize LAX and protect airport neighbors. It is an ambitious goal, but our constituents deserve nothing less.”

Airport officials said that a first draft of the environmental study is not expected until about August 2009 and that construction of the project proposals would not begin until late 2012.