Port of Kennewick officials OK $225,000 Vista Field study

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 13, 2012 

Port of Kennewick commissioners decided Tuesday to pay for a $225,000 study that will help determine the future of the Vista Field Airport.

The commission unanimously chose to hire consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. of Portland to look at specific possibilities for the Kennewick airport.

Those possibilities range from improving the airport to closing it in favor of redevelopment.

Commissioners decided to study what to do with Vista Field after they failed to find an operator for the airport.

The port has been struggling to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield near the Three Rivers Convention Center after deciding two years ago to keep the airport open in hopes of recruiting more businesses to the property.

Port commission President Skip Novakovich said the study will inform the public of the benefits and cost of Vista Field. It also will indicate the return on investment and answer many of the questions raised by the public, he said.

Port Commissioner Don Barnes said the study also will show the public how the port funds Vista Field.

The Portland-based consultant, also known as DPZ, was the top pick of a committee made up of representatives from Benton County, West Richland, Richland and Benton City, and included a citizen and a pilot.

Novakovich said he was disappointed the city of Kennewick did not have a council member participate in the process.

Kennewick Councilman John Hubbard, who had been appointed as Kennewick's representative, told the Herald he was not at the meeting when the city council decided not to participate in the consultant selection.

However, Hubbard said Vista Field's future is a port decision.

Ed Frost of Kennewick, the citizen representative on the selection committee, said he believed DPZ was a good choice because of the strong airport subcontractor the company was using for the study.

But he said the firm told the committee it would use a mathematical model to determine actual use. Data is what is needed for a cost analysis, Frost said.

"Really force your consultant to get you hard data on the activities of the airport," he said.

Bill McKay of Kennewick told commissioners he opposed the study because he believes the issue has been "studied to death."

The decision about the airport's future should be a financial one, he said. It doesn't seem viable to subsidize the airport for 20 to 30 people when it is in the middle of a major growth area for the city, McKay said.

Richard Parker, manager of Kennewick's Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, said the company would like to see the airport improve and increase usage. They have planes land two to four times a day Monday through Thursday.

They are building a $4 million building near the airport. Parker said the institute hired 10 employees for the expansion.

Parker cautioned that once the land is sold, the port can't go back to having the airport. But he said he does understand if it comes to the point where all options are exhausted.

Don Karger of Kennewick said citizens are paying for the airport but not using it.

"To have the citizens foot the bill to have 30 to 40 people have an airport seems pretty ridiculous," he said.

Tom Moak of Kennewick said he doesn't believe the port had good numbers on Vista Field to make an educated decision. That is why the former Kennewick mayor said he supports the study.

It is really easy for people on the outside to say the airport should be closed or remain open, but it's important to make a long-term decision using facts, he said.

"You need to weigh that very carefully," Moak said.

The port plans to let the public decide Vista Field's future after the options are studied using an advisory vote next year.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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