PELLA — Support for a proposed regional airport is up in the air nearly one year after the Iowa Supreme Court declared a key agreement for the project unconstitutional.
At a Pella Airport Committee meeting on Friday, committee member Matt Hutchinson, also an employee/representative of Vermeer Corporation, shared an update he received from Pella City Administrator Mike Nardini earlier this month regarding the proposed South Central Regional Airport.
According to Hutchinson, Pella Corporation has submitted a letter to Nardini that indicates it no longer supports the proposed South Central Regional Airport and would like the city to redirect its resources to the Pella Municipal Airport. The Herald has submitted a public records request for the letter.
Hutchinson said he verbally confirmed with Vermeer CEO Jason Andringa they would also like to see resources redirected back to the municipal airport. Both Vermeer and Pella Corp. currently utilize the municipal airport for business.
Liz Sporrer, spokesperson for Vermeer, told the Herald in an email Friday afternoon that Vermeer continues to have a neutral position regarding the proposed regional airport.
“A local airport is important to our business activity, and whether that is in Pella or the regional airport, Vermeer supports a safe, effective airport facility,” she said.
Nicolle Picray, public relations and corporate communications manager at Pella Corp., was not immediately available for comment.
Hutchinson did not know whether Nardini has approached the Pella mayor or city council about where they stand on the proposed regional airport. Nardini was out of the office Friday and unavailable for comment.
The committee recommends that the city and council no longer support the proposed regional airport and has formally submitted this recommendation in writing to council. The letter was not immediately made available to the Herald.
“The situation on the ground has changed over the last 20 years. The corporate flight departments have changed. Aircraft over the last 20 years and the need for a Category C airport is no longer as vital as it was when this process all started,” Hutchinson said. “And with the current situation … It’s still 10 years off, and our corporate partners can’t live with that.”
The committee stressed that the airport’s current infrastructure is “crumbling” around them, and is in need of “significant repair and expansion to fit current needs,” including a “serious” hangar space issue and terminal remodel. About $1.5 million is currently needed for these improvements, said Shane Vande Voort, manager of the Pella Municipal Airport.
For years, the proposed regional airport has “postponed expenditures” needed for the municipal airport, the committee said. According to Hutchinson, the municipal airport has not received much-needed funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Airport Administration, which instead awarded a $3.2 million Airport Improvement Program grant to the City of Pella for the proposed regional airport in 2021.
With the help of municipal airport staff, the committee intends to conceive a master plan to outline the airport’s needs in the hope that it will receive support from the FAA moving forward.
“I feel like the momentum has finally shifted back to Pella Municipal, so I think we need to be prepared for what that means,” Hutchinson said.
Court ruling effectively crumbled SCRAA
In June 2022, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled the 28E agreement between the City of Pella, City of Oskaloosa and Mahaska County Board of Supervisors that formed the South Central Regional Airport Agency was unconstitutional. The agreement was established in 2012 under Iowa Code Chapter 28E, combining the powers of Mahaska County and the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa to construct a new regional airport in the Leighton area.
The agreement allowed the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa to prevent the county's exit from the agreement; the bylaws of the agreement creating the SCRAA entity required all parties to consent to a party's exit.
However, that clause was deemed unconstitutional because it would allow the 2012 county board that entered into the agreement with the cities to bind decisions of all future boards. The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors formally voted to exit the agreement shortly after the ruling.
To date, SCRAA board members have not discussed the project's future in its public meetings.
The City of Oskaloosa announced it intends to annex 379 acres of land near Leighton, owned by the SCRAA, for the proposed regional airport. The annexation would extend the city’s corporate boundary along the Highway 163 corridor to incorporate this area, including the US 63/Highway 163 interchange, with the SCRAA land.
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