Kennewick's Vista Field won't be start of air race

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldJune 13, 2012 

Kennewick's Vista Field won't be the start of an all-women's national air race after the Port of Kennewick questioned the legality of spending $25,000 for the event.

At the same time, the port continues to struggle to reach an agreement with a Tri-City dentist who has submitted a bid to operate the airport.

Port commissioners were told Tuesday that next year's Air Race Classic will move to another airport.

Last month, Tammy Fine, the port's finance director and auditor, told commissioners that she was concerned a request to make $25,000 in airport improvements before the race could be considered gifting of public funds.

Installing more tie-downs for airplanes when there isn't a need for more tie-downs outside of this four-day event might be considered an excessive cost by the state Auditor's Office, Fine cautioned.

The port normally contributes about $950 for an event like the Air Race Classic.

But Marjy Leggett of the Mid-Columbia Ninety-Nines argued in a letter to commissioners that the $25,000 would not be a gift of public money. Her letter was read to commissioners by Anita Young of Kennewick.

Leggett, who leads the Air Race Classic Start 2013 committee, said the project should be considered a capital improvement to the airport by adding 30 more permanent airplane tie-downs and 17 temporary ones. The group planned to complete the project with volunteer labor.

And she said she was disappointed the port took a draft proposal to the state auditor for comments without input from the committee.

"There were many airports competing for this activity and I was fortunate to have sold the association on the Tri-Cities and Vista Field," Leggett said in the letter.

In the proposal, the committee said the race would bring in 55 airplanes with two to three pilots each, as well as friends, relatives, judges and volunteers.

"Comments made suggest that the port does not want to provide the required tie-downs, is unwilling to work with us and does not want to host the Air Race Classic," Leggett wrote.

Port officials did not comment on the decision during the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, Fine said she had asked Leggett for more information, including liability insurance.

Fine said she also contacted the Air Race Classic and asked for information that would help the port prepare to play host to the event.

She said she was told the group could provide her with the information but not until after this year's race.

After the meeting, Commission President Skip Novakovich told the Herald that the port has to protect the public's interest.

The port can't just sponsor an event or do capital improvements without justify its actions, particularly to state auditors, he said.

He said the Yakima airport recently was issued an audit finding for not effectively controlling costs.

Also Tuesday:

w Mike Shannon, who is negotiating with the port to serve as Vista Field's fixed-based operator, asked the port in a letter to respond to his list of lease considerations for the draft contract.

"You have made false statements to the commissioners and the media which have contribute to the confusion surrounding the development of Vista Field," said the letter to Executive Director Tim Arntzen. "Through your actions, it has become clear that you have no interest in assisting in the rejuvenation of Vista Field."

The letter was read to the commission by a member of Shannon's staff. Port officials were told that Shannon, who owns Shannon Dental, couldn't attend Tuesday's meeting because of scheduled surgeries.

At the port's May 22 meeting, Shannon chided the port for going public with the negotiations he thought were confidential and questioned a $20 million to $33 million price tag calculated by port staff.

Novakovich said after the meeting that the port has not argued contract negotiations through the media. He contended that Shannon has made the negotiations public.

Port staff have tried to set up a meeting with Shannon but have so far not received a response, Novakovich said.

He said they've had a difficult time trying to find a time when port staff and the port's attorney can meet with Shannon.

Shannon said in the letter that he cannot make midday meetings, but can meet in the evenings or on weekends. Novakovich said requiring port staff and the attorney to meet after business hours is expensive and a hardship for the employees.

Still, Shannon said he does not see a reason for a meeting when a response by email, mail or fax could answer the questions.

"If we cannot come to a common ground without revisions then we cannot proceed," Shannon wrote.

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