Councilvotes 4-3 to close airport by Dec. 2008

Published on Thu, Mar 1, 2007 by ara Nelson

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Council votes 4-3 to close airport by Dec. 2008

By Tara Nelson

After a final showdown between airport supporters and opponents, Blaine city council voted to close the Blaine municipal airport by the end of 2008.

In their regular meeting Monday, members voted 4-3 to approve a resolution that would close the airport. Rather than moving ahead with the expansion recommended in the Blaine Airport Master Plan, the council will sell the 43 acres of prime industrial-zoned land for development.

Opponents to the plan had long cited a 2006 study by Alternative Land Use Committee, a group formed by the council at the request of citizens to examinethe economic feasibility of alternative uses for the airport land. The group had hired the Makers architecture + urban design firm of Seattle, which estimated that a redevelopment of the site could create as many as 332 new jobs and $460,000 in annual city tax revenue by 2025.

Council members Jason Overstreet, Bonnie Onyon, John Liebert and Ken Ely constituted the majority opinion. Mayor Mike Myers, along with council members Charlie Hawkins and Bruce Wolf voted against the resolution.

Prior to the vote, a group of airport supporters including pilots from Anacortes, Redmond, Arlington and Point Roberts, pleaded with council members to keep what they said is an invaluable piece of transportation infrastructure.

“There’s a lot of money that pours into the economy of a city because of an airport such as accommodation, tourism, and the food and beverage industry,” said Mike Arntzen, a Microsoft business development manager of Redmond who represents the company’s 200-plus pilots. “It goes beyond just the numbers on the paper.”
Airport commission chair Doug Fenton called the resolution “precipitous” and suggested that the city postpone the 2008 closure deadline until it has time to find a buyer for the 42 acres of airport land. He also warned that passing such an ordinance could invite litigation, for which the city does not yet have adequate funds to compensate.

“You’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said. “You are going to be forced to sell the airport on unfavorable terms. And you’re going to sell to the first bidder because you don’t have the luxury of waiting.”
The council had voted 4-3 in October to keep the airport and proceed with a $16 million plan to extend and move the runway south, but then voted to explore the issue again when council members learned the amount of federal funding available was much less than anticipated.

The city had received an email from Mary Vargas, the state aviation planner for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Seattle district office in which she cited an “unrealistic” possibility of the availability of funds necessary to proceed with the city’s airport expansion plan.

Still, council member Wolf said he was concerned about possible litigation from current leaseholders and that he thought the city could complete the expansion.

“We could still move the runway south in 15 to 20 years, which is not that much later than originally planned,” he said.

He added the FAA did not factor in the $150,000 in non-primary entitlement grants per year in addition to non-primary entitlement grants that the city could borrow from other small airports.

“I feel this issue is so emotional, we need to have all the numbers in hand,” he said. “There are so many unknowns. Closing this airport is very scary business.”

Council member Hawkins said he thought the vote to keep or sell the airport should be put to the public.

“The residents of the city of Blaine should decide this,” he said. “I’ve heard people on the council say that people wouldn’t get the facts or they wouldn’t be able to discern the facts as well as the council.”

Myers said he had recently spoke with FAA officials and that he supported putting the vote to the public but council members

Overstreet, Onyon, Liebert and Ely were not convinced.

“The airport, one way or another, is something of a trainwreck,” Ely said.

Onyon agreed.

“What bothers me is if we go down the road to expansion, there are so many potential traps along the way,” she said. “Wetlands, property owners litigation – either way we’re talking about litigation. So we have to decide what is the best thing for the far future.

“Once we go down the road for expansion, there is no turning back.”