May 24, 2013

SCRAA approves Site A as preferred site for regional airport

The Oskaloosa Herald

OSKALOOSA — The South Central Regional Airport Agency approved a recommendation from Snyder & Associates Thursday to designate Site A as the preferred location for a new regional airport and Site B as the secondary site for consideration.

The SCRAA is looking for 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. Site A is located near Highway 163 between Independence and Highland avenues. Site B is located south of Highway 163 and east of Eaton Avenue.

Before the SCRAA made its vote, the members heard comments from the audience that had gathered at the George Daily Auditorium. There were people who spoke in favor and against the proposed regional airport.

Oskaloosa Area Chamber & Development Group Executive Director Jon Sullivan spoke in favor of the regional airport.

“It's time to show our support,” he said. The regional airport would be “a huge economic development generator.”

Beth Danowsky of the Mahaska Community Development Group said the organization supports the development of the regional airport. It's “a necessary piece of infrastructure,” she said.

Oskaloosa Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt said there is pressure from both the state and federal levels for communities to work on a regional level for intermodal infrastructure such as roads, rail and airports. Local leaders need to “think strategically as well” about projects such as a new airport and Highway 63 improvements.

Linda Donaldson is a landowner in the Site A area. She is the fifth-generation of a farming family that has two century farms.

“This is precious farming land with high yields,” she said.

Donaldson said she would like to see a study done to quantify the economic development benefits of the proposed airport. She believed that only a small group of people would benefit from the new airport at the expense of taking away prime farmland and century farms.

Rob Hammann is a landowner at Site B. Hammann said he did not like the lack of landowner representation on the SCRAA board.

“You'd have a better buy-in if someone affected was on the board,” he said.

Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Doland said he did not have any farm ground in the areas of consideration, but he was willing to stand up for those who did.

“Take eminent domain off the table and we'd all be happy,” he said.

After approval of naming Site A as the preferred site and Site B as the secondary, consultants will begin drafting plans and documents such as a layout plan, phasing schedule, financial plan, and environmental impact studies on land and farms. There is no land acquisition planned during the study process. The Federal Aviation Administration must approve the site plan first.

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