Grand Jury reports on IYK earthquake damage, response

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Grand Jury reports on IYK  earthquake damage, responseThe Kern County Grand Jury released a report Wednesday after investigating operations at Inyokern Airport — primarily as they relate to the damages sustained from recent earthquakes, as well as the role the installation played in disaster response and recovery efforts.

“At the time of the earthquake, the Indian Wells Valley Airport District was able to keep the Inyokern Airport open and functional, providing aircraft landing and fuel for emergency services, news media, as well as state and federal offices,” states the report.

“Due to the area’s remote location and providing emergency services quickly, the airport is essential.”

While damages to the community have been estimated at upwards of $100 million, and to the base at some $4 billion, “the district reported minimal damage to the airport facility, which was repaired by in-house staff,” says the report.

Runways and taxiways suffered significant damages, but are still useable. The airport is now seeking FAA grants and state matching funds to provide the $12 million needed for reconstruction of one of its runways. Another runway is under consideration to be rehabilitated in 2022.

The report went on to detail operations at the airport, which lost commuter services several years ago. The installation still serves as an alternate staging and landing site for work and testing relating to defense.

The panoramic vistas surrounding the runways also attract filming projects. The high-profile use of IYK for the upcoming Top Gun sequel helped propel annual film-relate fees from some $80,000 annually to upwards of $450,000 last year.

In addition to the fees collected by the airport, countless millions flooded into local hotels, restaurants, fueling stations and other businesses that supported the hundreds of crewmembers who came to town for the project.

Scott Seymour, manager of the airport, said that fly-in traffic at IYK has increased since the earthquake. He attributed part of that uptick to the contractors flying in as part of the recovery effort at China Lake.

Among the observations by the Grand Jury was that canceling meetings of the airport board limited public input and transparency. The report included a recommendation that the board adhere to its posted monthly meeting schedule to improve public access.

Seymour said he had received a copy of the Grand Jury’s, report but did not want to comment on it until he presented it to the board at the next monthly meeting.

Pictured: IYK Manager Scott Seymour in front of the terminal. — News Review file photo

Story First Published: 2020-01-31