June 28, 2013

TARA holds regional airport meeting at George Daily Auditorium Thursday

The Oskaloosa Herald


The group Taxpayers Against Regional Airport held an informational meeting at George Daily Auditorium Thursday evening to give their views on the regional airport.

The South Central Regional Airport Agency has chosen a site for a joint Pella-Oskaloosa airport that is capable of handling Category C aircraft. A Category C airport has a 5,500-foot runway with room to expand up to 7,000 feet. The airport would have the ability to provide precision approach landings, which the current Pella airport is incapable of doing. A Category C aircraft using the facility has a 79 foot wingspan and a passenger capacity of six to 12 people.

The proposed joint Oskaloosa-Pella regional airport is a sensitive issue for many, especially landowners and farmers in the Leighton area.

In late May, the SCRAA approved Site A, which is located near Highway 163 between Independence and Highland avenues, as the primary study location. Site B, the secondary study site, is located south of Highway 163 and east of Eaton Avenue.

A group of TARA members conducted a PowerPoint presentation to the audience gathered at the George Daily Auditorium. TARA member Tim Van Maanen was the primary speaker.

During his presentation, Van Maanen cited figures from Pella Mayor Jim Mueller that there are between 300 and 500 Category C flights — out of a total of 17,000 flights — at the Pella airport annually. That's 3 percent of flights that are Category C, he added.

Van Maanen said that federal grant funding for the airport is “up to 90 percent” of costs and contends that the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa would have to carry the cost of the airport until completion, when the FAA would reimburse the communities.

Van Maanen said TARA members spoke to Sioux County officials about their airport effort, a model for the proposed regional airport. He said Sioux County officials spent their entire budget on land acquisition and had to start eminent domain procedures, but in the end did not use that power.

Eminent domain is a very sensitive issue with the regional airport.

TARA member Rob Hammann said there is a petition circulating about taking eminent domain out of the 28E agreement between the cities of Pella, Oskaloosa and Mahaska County. The SCRAA has the power to use eminent domain to acquire land. He said about 1,000 people have signed the petition either on paper or online.

During the April SCRAA public information meeting, Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Schrock Jr. said the SCRAA board would follow federal procedures, and land condemnation/eminent domain would be “a last resort.”

Van Maanen said that if the SCRAA anticipates voluntary agreements for land acquisition, it can take eminent domain out of the 28E agreement.

During the question-and-answer segment of the meeting, one question raised was “What's next?”

Van Maanen said people could place anti-airport signs on their property and sign the petition to take eminent domain out of the 28E agreement.

People also can vote in the upcoming November election, Van Maanen said. There are four Oskaloosa City Council members and Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt up for re-election. If the membership of the city council changes, it could decide to chart a different course on the airport issue, he added.

Another question was what could be done to the 28E agreement if the view of the Oskaloosa City Council on the airport changed as a result of the election.

Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Doland said a partner of the 28E agreement found to be in violation of its terms or impede progress of the project, it could face up to $250,000 in fines. He said a possibility would be for the city to tell its representatives to the SCRAA board to change the language of the 28E agreement.

TARA will hold a similar public information meeting in Pella on Wednesday, July 10, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Pella Community Center.

Herald Editor Duane Nollen can be reached by email at oskynews@oskyherald.com