By SUE SALISBURY
The Oskaloosa Herald
OSKALOOSA — With the important issue of ownership of a proposed regional airport on the ballot Nov. 8, The Herald thought it would be instructive to present viewpoints regarding a regional airport from Taxpayers Against a Regional Airport and Mahaska Community Development Group. Duane Vos represents TARA and Scott Feldt speaks for the Mahaska Community Development Group.
The language to be voted on reads: “Local control of municipal airport: The authority and control of any airport owned, maintained, operated or supported with tax dollars by the Oskaloosa Airport Commission or the City of Oskaloosa shall reside solely with the Oskaloosa Airport Commission or the City of Oskaloosa and the authority and control shall not be shared or merged with any other entity.”
Vos and Feldt were both asked for their comments on the referendum and then asked for any comments on the concept of a regional airport.
“It’s important we distinguish between the two issues,” Feldt pointed out, referring to the referendum, which is the issue to be voted on Nov. 8, and the idea of building a regional airport. He continued, “Let me ask a question. Where in the proposed ordinance does it say that Oskaloosa is building a regional airport? It does not. It only talks about ownership and control. We’re not deciding on an airport in this election.”
“This referendum is not in the best interest of the city because it puts the city at a disadvantage. I believe the reason to vote ‘no’ on the referendum is that it ties the hands of elected officials when dealing with other governmental entities regarding the Oskaloosa airport. Also, should a local business expand or a new business wish to locate here, and express an interest in somehow augmenting the airport facilities, the city would be unable to enter into any agreement with that business. We should try to give the city the best position from which to negotiate with businesses, vendors and governmental bodies. This referendum sends the wrong message. It says the city is not interested in development that may have long term benefits for not only the citizens of Oskaloosa but also the citizens of Mahaska County and the Pella region.
“At this point, it’s premature to discuss the issue of a regional airport, and there are several reasons why we don’t want to do that yet. For one thing, Phase IV (the environmental impact study) is not done. And, by the way, Phase IV won’t cost Oskaloosa or Pella one dollar. The economic development groups of both Oskaloosa and Pella have agreed to pay the cities’ portion of Phase IV. And I believe there’s an issue involving roads that would need to be closed. I don’t know what the status of that is, but it’s something else that will have to be addressed. Also, land values haven’t been finalized. Pella and Oskaloosa haven’t come to any agreement regarding land owned by the two airports. How much would be sold and how much would be retained by the two cities? Then there’s the issue of construction. Airport related expenses such as runways, terminals and instrumentation are covered by the FAA. But the cost of private hangars is not eligible for that money. Funding for that will come from the sale of the land now in use by the existing airports, so we’ll need to determine how many hangars are needed. What size does the terminal need to be? Who will the fixed base operator be? What compensation should be offered to landowners? All these questions need to be discussed and resolved if plans for a regional airport were to move forward. We believe it’s important for elected officials to be given all the information needed to make an informed decision — it will help them decide whether a regional airport is in the best long-term interest of the citizens of Oskaloosa.”
“With that said, Mahaska County Community Development believes that the concept of a regional airport has merit. It would provide advantages such as operating efficiency, construction of a modern airport facility and the ability to promote the airport to attract business development and job creation,” he said.
“I like to compare the idea of a regional airport to the idea of widening Highway 92 to four lanes. It’s already a main thoroughfare. People are already using it, so if you expand it, you’re going to get more traffic, draw more people. Can I guarantee you it’s going to create X-number of jobs, or bring Y-amount more money into the community? No. But I can point to studies where economic development is created because of those roads. We need to try to create an environment where that’s most likely to happen. To do that we need to be able ask the questions and study the issues involved.”
Addressing the language in the referendum which will be voted upon in the Nov. 8 election, Vos said, “It’s important that the city of Oskaloosa control its airport, particularly when its airport is self-sufficient and there’s room to expand. We need to retain that control.”
“The question is ‘why would you sell your airport to join any other airport when yours doesn’t cost any money?’”
He went on to discuss some of the issues TARA has with the construction of a regional airport.
“Why should they change their airport — it meets the needs of users. I don’t believe there’s been voiced opposition against Oskaloosa’s airport, as to why they don’t have their aircraft there. I would encourage everyone to visit the Oskaloosa airport. It’s an excellent facility.”
“Pella’s airport meets the needs of its users and can be expanded, according to the FAA” (Federal Aviation Administration), he said.
A document from the FAA stated, “For example, the alternative to extend Pella’s existing runway should be considered even though it will require the potential relocation of some golf course holes and some housing. Certainly, this is not a popular choice, but one that must be considered. While cost alone is not the determining factor, certainly it is an important consideration and the argument could be made that it would be less costly to relocate some golf course holes and housing to extend the existing runway rather than build a new airport.”
Vos continued, “A regional airport would benefit a select few — corporations — yet the taxpayer would have to fund this airport. FFA funds are still taxpayers’ money.” He also quoted Kay Thede, Aviation Program Manager with the Iowa Department of Transportation as saying, “Airports do not make money.” He went on to note, “The FAA is not mandating a regional airport.”
Addressing the progress of the airport feasibility study thus far, Vos said, “The FAA has not approved Phase III Draft Master Plan, specifically, county roads involved are not addressed. Without the county’s approval of road closure or relocation, the project cannot proceed. Correspondence with the FAA says they will not approve funding for Phase IV until the issue of roads has been resolved. No one has formally addressed the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors with reference to the roads.” He introduced a document from the FAA that stated, “The major item that does not appear to be adequately addressed in the master plan is the necessary road relocations that are required. I did not see any documentation of the coordination with the county regarding road closures and relocations required by this plan. Without the county’s approval the roads cannot be closed and this project cannot proceed.”
Regarding the place of the county in the project, Vos went on to say, “This proposal involves county assets, yet they have no say. Why does the business of the city outweigh the business of the county.”
“I feel it is disrespectful to residents in the county and to farm businessmen to simply go out and taken their business assets. Eminent domain could be used in this proposal. All affected property owners have signed a statement saying they will not willingly sell their property for this airport. Do Oskaloosa and Pella want to be involved in an eminent domain action? Is there a local corporation supporting this proposal that wants to use eminent domain as a means to get what only they want?
“The proposed airport tears apart three century farms and would take part of a historical property. Who are we to say we can take away our heritage and historical property?” he said.
Herald Staff Writer Sue Salisbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By SUE SALISBURY