Carl Cadwell says Vista Field decisions damaging his Kennewick company

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 4, 2012 

Carl Cadwell says the Port of Kennewick's recent decisions regarding Vista Field Airport have damaged his business.

His Spokane attorney, Nicholas Kovarik, recently wrote the port commissioners asking for a meeting to discuss how to repair those damages.

Cadwell's recent $2 million expansion of Cadwell Laboratories was based on the port commission's 2010 decision to keep Vista Field open, Kovarik said. Cadwell had not planned to expand before the decision because of the airport's uncertain future.

Cadwell's business depends on Vista Field, Kovarik said, who did not provide details.

Lucinda Luke, the port's attorney, said the Port of Kennewick has reviewed sales agreements for property inside and outside the fence of the airport property, lease agreements and contracts. They have not found any port-based obligations to businesses such as Cadwell Laboratories that are related to Vista Field, Luke said.

"The port is curious concerning Dr. Cadwell's assertions," Luke wrote in a response sent Wednesday to Kovarik. "We are unable to find any authority for the propositions asserted in your letter."

Cadwell has a month-to-month "through the fence" lease with the port that allows him to access the airport, said Larry Peterson, the port's director of planning and development. Cadwell pays $500 a year for the lease. The port has not found evidence of any commitment to Cadwell longer than those 30-day leases, Peterson said.

The port's flip flop on the decision to keep the airport open and attempt to close Vista Field is causing significant damages, Kovarik said.

Kovarik said they believe there is an agenda attached to the study of the airport being performed by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. of Portland.

Kovarik cited the port's decision to put the closure of Vista Field up for a public vote, "which we think is an elaborate ruse."

In addition, Kovarik said the port withdrew from negotiations with Mike Shannon for a fixed-based operator, canceled the Air Race Classic that would have brought visibility to Vista Field and refused a $140,000 Washington State Department of Transportation grant for necessary runway improvements.

Port Commission Chairman Skip Novakovich said Cadwell's claim of the purpose of the current study couldn't be further from the truth.

The study is examining three options for Vista Field, which include keeping it open as is, making significant investments in the airport and closing the airport for redevelopment, he said.

"We want to find out what the best use of Vista Field is," Novakovich said.

Novakovich said the port was met with an unreasonable request in the negotiations that did not match Shannon's proposal to the commission. It would have required tremendous taxpayer investment that the port couldn't live with, he said.

And Novakovich said the port did not cancel the air show. The committee of citizens bringing the event to the Tri-Cities decided to move it to the Tri-Cities Airport in Pasco.

Peterson said the port had a $140,000 grant from WSDOT. However, the bids came in about 26 percent higher than the engineer's estimate for the project, which included sealing some cracks and applying a half-inch of asphalt over the taxiways and part of the runway.

That was more than the port had budgeted and the state was able to add, so Peterson said they declined the bids, but they believed they could rebid the project and still receive the grant.

But the grant was lost because the money had to be committed by June 11, he said. The port anticipated receiving another WSDOT grant, but the state rejected that grant for this year.

Kovarik said it doesn't make sense that the port didn't have enough money to pay for the project, and yet it could pay $225,000 for the study.

In his letter, Kovarik asked for a meeting with the port's attorney and all three port commissioners.

Luke said she offered to meet with Kovarik, Cadwell and any other affected business owners. Not all of the commissioners can be present because of the state Open Public Meetings Act, and they have authorized her to attend in their stead, along with attorney Steve DiJulio of Foster Pepper in Seattle.

Luke said she proposed two dates later in October for a meeting.

Kovarik said he would simply like to meet with the port's attorney. He said his client is not asking for an illegal meeting.

"This is obviously a very serious issue for the business owners that utilize Vista Field," Kovarik said.

Cadwell wants a solution to the Vista Field closure issue, Kovarik said. The goal is to resolve the issues, not necessarily go to court.

Kovarik said that is why he submitted a public records request for documents related to Vista Field.

The request lists 22 items including all documents supporting the port's decision to close Vista Field and put the closure to a public vote, any lease agreements or contracts dealing with the airport property and all calculations of damages suffered by Vista Field businesses if the airport closes. The request also seeks documents related to Clover Island, employment contracts for port executive director Tim Arntzen and Tammy Fine, the port's finance director and auditor, as well as travel and expense reports for Novakovich, Arntzen and Fine for the past three years.

Peterson said the port does not have an estimate on the staff time or dollars it will take to answer the public records request. He expects staff will have that estimate for port commissioners Tuesday.

"We are stewards of the public's money," Peterson said. "We are an open book."

Luke said they anticipate the request will be larger than the one submitted last year by attorney John Ziobro, who has not revealed his client. The port continues to work on that request.

The port has told Kovarik they would have a response to his records request no later than Oct. 12, Luke said.

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

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