Public looks for facts about future of Kennewick's Vista Field

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldOctober 5, 2012 

An open house Thursday night on the future of Kennewick's Vista Field Airport was attended by 30 people searching for facts surrounding the debate.

Suggestions offered during the public meeting held at the nearby Tri-Cities Business and Visitor Center ranged from giving businesses some sort of guarantee the airport will remain open to making sure there is a return on investment -- regardless of what happens -- for the Port of Kennewick's airport.

Ed Frost of Kennewick, a member of the city planning commission, said he doesn't have an opinion on the future of the airport. However, he said he wants to see the result based on facts produced by a study being conducted by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. of Portland.

Frost, who also served as the citizen representative for the committee to select Duany Plater-Zyberk, hopes the study addresses the costs are of keeping the airport open and investing in it versus closing the airport and redeveloping it.

That study should include what the increased cost to taxpayers would be with both options, if any, Frost added.

Commissioners decided to spend up to $225,000 on a study to decide what to do with Vista Field. That decision came after attempts to get an operator for the airport didn't go as planned.

The port wanted to find an operator willing to provide services such as flight lessons, aircraft repair and maintenance, as well as recruiting businesses to the 90-acre airfield near the Three Rivers Convention Center.

However, negotiations between Mike Shannon and the port broke down, and the commission decided in June to reject Shannon's proposal.

The intent of the open house was to gather community comment on the questions it wants answered and the options citizens want explored as part of the study.

Michael Mehaffy, project manager for consultant Duany Plater-Zyberk, said his company intends to find the answers to questions about Vista Field, including how it currently is used and how the airport affects adjacent business owners, the public and the port.

Mehaffy said his company will examine what the best options may be for expanding the airport or associated development to make it sustainable as well as looking at the best options for closing the airport and redeveloping it.

Each option will compare costs and feasibility.

Mehaffy said his company has been told by the Port of Kennewick that the study must not be focused on closing the airport, but should explore viable scenarios for keeping the airport open and closing it as well as co-development.

In the past, there has been the perception that the deck has been stacked in previous studies, Mehaffy said.

Joreen Givens of Kennewick said she was glad to see a mix of citizens involved in the process. She liked the idea suggested about creating a museum that features the airport's history.

Frank Osterwyk of Kennewick said he's ready for the port to close the airport, sell the land and have the area developed by job-creating industries.

"If you are in the hole financially, why do you keep digging?" he said.

Mike White of Kennewick said he believes the airport needs to be in the hands of an operator who understands and appreciates the benefits it brings. The Port of Kennewick neither understands nor appreciates the airport, he said.

White added that he can't help but think there will be some bias to the study because the port is financing it.

Another public meeting is planned for November. A report with the alternatives -- including the cost analysis -- also will be released during November.

The consultant plans to have a draft environmental impact statement for the public by Feb. 15, with the EIS being finalized in May, Mehaffy said.

Port officials said they plan to take the alternatives examined by Duany Plater-Zyberk to an advisory vote, likely in April.

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