Ask the PAC: What’s up with the gunshots at the Petaluma Airport?

Ask the PAC

This new weekly feature aims to get to the bottom of your most burning questions and provide insight into vexing daily curiosities.

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This week’s Ask the PAC started out as a real mystery. An east Petaluma resident reported hearing occasional gunshots while walking near Wiseman Park.

The sharp sounds, occurring mostly in the mornings, echoed across the park from the Petaluma Municipal Airport. Sometimes, the resident said, a white truck would crawl into view before the bang.

What does it all mean? Read on to find out.

Question: When we walk by the Petaluma Airport, we occasionally hear the sound of gunfire. What’s up with that?

Answer: Petaluma Airport Manager Dan Cohen said the resident is not far off. The sounds east Petaluma residents might hear emanating from the airport on the occasional morning are akin to gunfire - bird scaring pyrotechnics. In short, airport personnel are using a pistol-like device to fire cartridges reminiscent of middle-school rocket engines. The sound encourages runway-adjacent birds to take wing, keeping the birds and airplaines out of each other’s way.

“We’re using this first thing in the morning to get rid of any birds that have decided to sit down on the runway,” Cohen said, adding that the birds usually take the hint for the rest of the day.

The loud bang of the bird scaring pyrotechnic is just one of many tools airports use to avoid one of the largest problems in aviation. Others include animal decoys - coyotes are particularly popular - and sundry noise-making machines.

Petaluma’s approach appears to be working. The last recorded bird strike, according to the FAA Wildlife Strike Database, occurred last June. The last such strike to deal major damage happened in September 2013.

Q: What’s eating away at the lamp post bases near the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma location on the Sonoma Mountain Parkway? And why were the posts made of pickable material instead of stone?

The base of some of the lamp posts along Sonoma Mountain Parkway have seen better days. (GOOGLE STREET VIEW)
The base of some of the lamp posts along Sonoma Mountain Parkway have seen better days. (GOOGLE STREET VIEW)

A: Petaluma Public Works Director Jason Beatty said his staff is aware of the problem. Beatty himself noticed it a few months ago while walking in the area with his son. As with most things, the city’s public works department must prioritize repairs, meaning it’s not yet clear when the issue will be addressed.

“We have it on our list of items to address with street maintenance funding,” Beatty said. “I understand it is an aesthetics issue and not a structural one, so the prioritization, with all of our street maintenance issues, is down the list some.”

Beatty promised to check into the timeline for repairs, and acknowledged the faulty design was puzzling for him as well.

“As for why it was built this way, that is a head scratcher for me as well,” Beatty said. “Certainly not the most durable construction.”

The work dates to 1991.

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