Localrealtor wants airport on the ballot

Published on Thu, Sep 1, 2005 by eg Olson

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Local realtor wants airport on the ballot

By Meg Olson

Local realtor Dennis Hill is launching a petition to put the future of the airport on the ballot again.

Hill said he was prompted to start the petition by early response to the survey he paid to have distributed through The Northern Light and the Bellingham Herald. Of the almost 8,000 surveys that went out Hill said he had received over 100 back, and more than half of respondents were answering “yes” to the questions “do you want the airport closed?” and “Do you want other uses of the site?”

“It’s coming back two to one,” Hill said. “People aren’t sure what to put there but anything but an airport seems to be the idea.”

Hill said the petition will be available for signatures at Blaine Marina furniture and appliance store starting Thursday, and he was forming a committee to start going door to door for signatures. “We need 310 signatures by September 23 to get an initiative on the November ballot to close the airport,” he said. “I don’t think it’s going to be a problem.”

The approximately 40-acre site could have a number of uses that would better serve the city, Hill said. “Could it be a great place for the school to expand? Could it be land the city leases out? I don’t know, that’s a whole new project, getting professionals in to tell us the highest and best use,” he said. While city council continues to mull over the possibility of forming a committee to look at alternatives for the airport land, Hill said citizens need to weigh in on the issue. “City council takes a long time,” he said. “Let’s cut to the chase and let the citizens decide.” If Hill is successful it will be the fourth time Blaine citizens have been asked if they want to keep the airport. In previous elections voters have supported keeping the airport open.

In other news on the growing airport debate, Blaine airport commission chairman Doug Fenton has filed an official complaint with the Port of Bellingham about the participation of port commissioner Jim Jorgensen in the debate about the Blaine airport.
“If he was acting on behalf of the commission, I suggest to you that it was highly irregular for the port to be interfering in the business of the city of Blaine without being invited to participate in the proceedings,” Fenton wrote in the August 16 letter to the port commission, referring to Jorgensen's participation in several public meetings on the draft Airport Master Plan.

Jorgensen spoke at the July 18 unveiling of the master plan, asking that the city put as much time and funding into looking at alternative uses for the airport land as they had put into planning for possible expansion using Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) funds. Blaine mayor John Liebert also wants the city to look at alternatives to an airport on the approximately 40 acres of city owned property east of State Route 543. At their July 25 meeting he got the agreement of fellow council members to form a committee that would look at alternative uses for the property while the FAA reviews the master plan.

Jorgensen, a retired Blaine high school teacher who now runs a local salmon charter company, said he was making the comments as a private citizen, not as a port commissioner. “There was no inappropriate action,” he said, “If you can prove that’s the best economically feasible use of that piece of property okay.”
In his letter Fenton complained that, “If, as has been stated in the local newspaper, he was acting as a private citizen, then it was not as a citizen of Blaine, as he does not live within the city and does not pay taxes to the city.” Jorgensen lives on Boblett Street east of the city limits. City taxes have paid for 2.5 percent of the cost of preparing the master plan so far according to city manager Gary Tomsic, with federal and state tax revenue paying for the rest. That cost breakdown would continue if the airport expansion went ahead, with the federal government picking up 95 percent of the cost. “I pay taxes to the county, the state, I pay income tax,” Jorgensen said, defending his right to an opinion.

It is not known if the port commission will take any further action on Fenton’s letter. It was not discussed when it was presented at the August 16 commission meeting. Jorgensen said he understood he had the support of fellow port commissioners to voice his opinions as a citizen.