After five years of debate, deliberation and some legal problems, the Tuolumne County Airport land use compatibility plan is now approved.

The updated version of the plan was passed Wednesday by the county's airport land use commissioners, whose job is to promote and support compatibility between Columbia and Pine Mountain Lake airports and the lands around them.

The final vote on the plan was 6-1, with Commissioner Bob Neuer dissenting and raising more than 10 problems he still has with the plan including his contention that the commission has no jurisdiction over parts of the plan.

"I think it's a gross mistake," Neuer said of the plan's passage.

The new plan changes varying restrictions on development on lands within a 2- to 3-mile vicinity of the airports for the safety of pilots and airport neighbors.

For example, people living on land surrounding either airport were required to sign "avigation easements," acknowledging they know they would be affected by such airport-related issues as noise and limits on heights of structures and trees.

Some have argued that these easements could bring the values of the property down.

Under the new plan, that easement is no longer required.

History of the plan

The airport land use compatibility plan has been in place since 1977 and gets updated occasionally by the commission. This most recent update began in 1998 with a revision by Shutt Moen Associates of Santa Rosa, an airport consulting firm.

In June 1999, the commission approved updates to the plan.

But a month later, commissioners revoked its approval after the Tuolumne County Counsel told them they had not held a state-required joint consultation session with the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors or the Sonora City Council.

Over the next two years, the commission met and discussed the plan, heard comments from pilots, community members and county staff members. The plan got four additions over those two years, dealing with property rights and boundary lines.

Jan. 31, 2001, the commission unofficially approved the plan with those four changes, pending review by county counsel.