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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, December 31, 2012, 6:45 am

Top stories of 2012: Happier times for wine

Also: New players in health care; Marin loses Grady Ranch

By Eric Gneckow, Jeff Quackenbush and Dan Verel, Business Journal Staff Reporters

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9. Exchange Bank restores financial health, dividend

While the restoration of Exchange Bank’s shareholder dividend was a high-profile expression of confidence in the bank’s recovery from the recession, it also was the first step toward restoring the iconic Doyle Scholarship at Santa Rosa Junior College.

Exchange BankThe Frank P. Doyle and Polly O’Meara Doyle Trust, responsible for the Doyle Scholarship, is the largest shareholder of Exchange Bank and is funded by the bank’s shareholder dividend. More than 100,000 students received the scholarship since it was enacted in 1948, and the program was put on hold in 2008 when loan losses from the recession forced the bank to stop its dividend.

While the bank’s board of directors and financial regulators had already agreed that the Exchange Bank had reversed the financial hit that it took during the recession, terms related to the $45 million the bank received through the Trouble Asset Relief Program in 2008 prevented resumption of the dividend. It was the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s decision to sell the stock in the bank it obtained as part of the program that allowed payments to resume in August.

Bank leaders called the quarterly 25 cent dividend a practical first step and a milestone in the comeback of the bank. It resulted in a payment of approximately $200,000 to the trust, which has authority to administer the scholarship and expects to do so in 2013.

Eric Gneckow

10. Airport expansion delayed as airline traffic hits record

A project to lengthen runways to new federal standards at Charles M. Schulz–Sonoma County Airport was delayed by one year, after federal regulators required further environmental study. While the Federal Aviation Administration approved of the determination that a 4.5-acre wetland area impacted by the expansion did not contain the endangered Burke’s goldfields flower as of late February of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service told airport officials this summer that construction should assume that the habitat was indeed occupied.

Environmental law experts say such presumed presence of a protected species, though new to a number of North Bay real estate developers, is part of an evolving, if sometimes invasive, regulatory policy over the last two decades. Presumed presence has been a hot segment of environmental case law in recent years, with attorneys representing farmers and property owners asserting that regulators are taking this too far.

Work is now expected to be completed in July 2014, versus an original estimate of November 2013, he said. The new environmental mitigation has contributed to approximately $10 million in estimated cost increases since the county Board of Supervisors first approved plans in January. The $53 million expansion project now needs $23 million in environmental measures. Federal aviation grants will pay for approximately 95 percent of the expansion.

The airport’s main runway will be extended by 885 feet to a new length of 6,000 feet. The second runway will be extended 200 feet to 5,200 feet. New taxiways will be constructed, and lighting will be added so the second runway can take the place of the main runway during construction. The longer runways will give future carriers more options, allowing smaller aircraft room to accelerate while at full passenger capacity.

In addition to the runway expansion, the airport’s 20-year master plan also includes more than $50 million in other upgrades that include a new passenger terminal, cargo terminal and traffic control tower. The new terminal is expected to be completed in eight to 10 years.

Passenger volume continued to climb at the airport in November, increasing 3.5 percent for the year, according to the most recent passenger data from the airport’s only carrier, Horizon Air. Since the start of the year, the carrier has served 190,647 passengers, well beyond the year-to-date high of 172,406 in 2011. 

Business Journal staff report

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