July 12, 2013

TARA holds regional airport meeting in Pella

The Oskaloosa Herald


The group Taxpayers Against Regional Airport held an informational meeting at the Pella Community Center Wednesday 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. The proposed regional airport could cost between $24 million and $30 million.

A group of TARA members conducted a PowerPoint presentation to the audience.

The Federal Aviation Administration would provide grant money to cover up to 90 percent of the cost of the land and runway. TARA member Tim Van Maanen contends that the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa would have to cover the costs of construction until the project is complete, then the FAA would reimburse the communities. Van Maanen wants to know where the money will come from to finance the project until completion.

TARA member Rob Hammann spoke about eminent domain, a power the SCRAA has available to acquire land. 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.”

Hammann said there is a petition circulating that would take the power of eminent domain out of the 28E agreement that created the SCRAA. He said there are now 1,600 signatures on the petition. Hammann said that eminent domain should be taken out of the agreement and SCRAA officials should just find landowners who are willing to sell their ground for the airport.

Hammann also questioned that when the cities of Oskaloosa and Pella sell their current airports to finance their part of regional airport costs, will the land be sold as agricultural or commerical land. Also, he asked that when land is purchased for the regional airport, would it be bought at the agricultural or commercial land rate.

Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Doland spoke about a recent supervisors meeting where the airport was discussed. The SCRAA needs only a section of 220th Street west of Independence Avenue closed for the airport. Doland said he voted against the closure.

“They don't plan on taking any houses,” Doland said.

Doland said he plans to make a motion in Monday's Mahaska County Board of Supervisors meeting to take the eminent domain power from the SCRAA.

Van Maanen said regional airport proponents argue that a new regional airport is needed due to safety issues.

“It is not a safety issue,” he said. “I don't buy the safety issue.”

Van Maanen said Class C aircraft have been landing at the current Pella airport for 10 years. He said diverting farm machinery onto Highway 163 due to the construction of the airport is more of a safety issue.

During the question-and-answer portion of the meeting, TARA members encouraged the audience to get out and vote in the November elections. In Oskaloosa, there are four Oskaloosa City Council members and Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt up for re-election. In Pella, there is one city council seat up for election.

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