Kern County could be $4.3 million richer if it manages to sell 343 acres of land that encompass the Lost Hills Airport.
County officials say the long-simmering project could rid the county of the under-used airport, which is little more than a runway near Wonderful Park in Lost Hills, about an hour's drive from Bakersfield.
Only a “handful” of pilots use the airport each week, said Director of Airports Mark Witsoe.
Mostly used by crop dusters and aviation students, Witsoe said the airport cost the county too much to maintain when compared to the relatively low usage it gets.
There are no buildings or hangars on the property. Aside from the airstrip, most of the land is undeveloped grassland.
Efforts to get the airport ready for sale have been underway for years. A major obstacle has been convincing the Federal Aviation Administration to allow the airport to be shut down. However, the FAA will soon cease to recognize it as an airport. Once that happens, the airstrip will no longer be officially used by pilots.
“With all the effort that it takes to keep an airport safe, it is really not cost effective,” Witsoe said.
He said pilots could use other airports that exist nearby, so the closure of the Lost Hills facility should not impact those who had previously relied on the airport.
“It won’t leave them without solutions,” he said.
The county will accept bids for the property, effective March 20.
Kern County real estate representative Katie Watkins said she is optimistic the county could sell the property. She said several parties have called her to express interest although she said she could not reveal who they were.
“The people I’ve talked to verbally sound very interested,” she said. “I wouldn’t call it committed at this point.”
The 343-acre property would be among the largest county sales, she said.
About 100 acres of the property is taken up by the airport itself, with the rest undeveloped. A tiny portion of the property in the lower left-hand corner are taken up by the soccer field of Wonderful Park. The majority of the property is zoned agricultural.
An appraisal by the county set the minimum price at $4.3 million, which must be met in order for the property to be sold.
The county plans to use funds earned from the sale to improve other county airports, including Meadows Field and Kern Valley airports.
“We’re working to continue to evolve the airport system into one that meets the needs of aviation,” Witsoe said, “but we don’t need to be maintaining facilities for which there’s no demand.”