Comments on draft study mostly support closing Kennewick's Vista Field

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 19, 2013 

People on both sides of the Vista Field Airport issue think the answer to what Port of Kennewick commissioners should do is obvious -- although their answers differ widely.

Those who commented on a recent draft study released in January urged port commissioners to close the small Kennewick general aviation airport for redevelopment and to keep it open.

Among those who asked the port to close it was Linda Parish of Kennewick.

"Taxpayers should not be expected to allocate money for this money pit just so a very select few businessmen have the luxury of having a personal airport near their office," wrote Parish, who is married to Kennewick City Councilman Paul Parish.

Meanwhile, Ray Gerk of Kennewick asked the port to maintain the airport for three to five years to determine if it is viable.

"It should only be improved/ expanded when justified by surrounding business development," he wrote. "The airport can be removed at a later date, if the demand for airport services does not increase with adjacent business growth."

The port has been struggling to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield after deciding two years ago to keep it open in hopes of recruiting more businesses. A firm was hired to do a $225,000 independent review after efforts to find an operator fell through.

The final report is due to the commission in mid-March.

Keep the airport

Carl Holder of Richland, a pilot, told commissioners that the port should stick to the master plan from 2011 and keep the airport open.

That master plan depended on the private sector making investments in the airfield that port officials have said just haven't happened, and pilots have said haven't been possible because of port actions.

"The Port has a duty and obligation to keep this airport open," Holder said.

"Kennewick needs to keep her airport!" wrote Jeffrey Urness, a staff optometric physician with Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute. "Our company ... has supported Kennewick's economy and health services sector for over 20 years."

Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute officials previously have told the Herald they would have located their new building at its current location bordering Vista Field whether or not the airport was there.

Sharon Inscore of Kennewick said she thinks the airport will help the community bring in new businesses.

"My vote is to keep the airport as-is, and make improvements on an as-funded basis," she wrote.

Close Vista Field

Even some pilots can see reasons for closing the airport.

"As a private pilot, I don't take lightly the closing of any GA (General Aviation) facilities, however, in this case I believe that Vista Field is redundant to the GA facilities in Richland and Pasco," wrote Phillip C. Ohl of Richland.

"I believe that our GA community would be better served with expanded facilities in Richland than with continued service at Vista Field. I also believe that the (Port of Kennewick) land currently occupied by Vista Field would better serve the Tri-Cities community as retail and commercial property," Ohl wrote.

Government entities that took a position -- the West Richland City Council and the Kennewick Public Facilities District -- voiced unanimous support for the proposed redevelopment of Vista Field, which could result in a gain to the port of $3.7 million after airport closure and land redevelopment costs are subtracted.

For most of the nonpilots and non-Vista Field users who commented on the study, the way forward was clear.

"The only reasonable decision that can be made is to sell the airport property and have it privately developed, after appropriate infrastructure development improvements," wrote Mark Hevland of Kennewick.

Joan Casey of Kennewick wrote, "This airport has never been anything but an expensive roadblock to Kennewick's normal development."

Cynthia Ewer of Richland believes most taxpayers think it's time to close the airport and develop the land, she said.

"The small group of folks who use Vista Field have had plenty of time to make this concept work," she wrote. "They've failed and the draft report clearly points the way to responsible use of the Port's tax monies and resources."

Ewer concluded, "While I feel for the folks who will lose their sweet transportation arrangements, they're just plain wrong to ask this of us."

Several people mentioned Carl Cadwell, the owner of Cadwell Laboratories and an outspoken advocate of the airport, in their comments.

Darrel Duncan of Kennewick told commissioners, "I believe the issue is straightforward, requiring an answer to one question: 'Is the name of our city 'Kennewick, Washington,' or 'Cadwell, Washington?' "

The commenters

In total, 87 people submitted comments on the draft study by consultant Duany Plater- Zyberk & Co.

About 56 percent of those commenters favor closing the airport and redeveloping it.

Of those who commented, 77 live within the Port of Kennewick's boundaries, which include Kennewick, Finley, West Richland and part of Richland, according to a Herald analysis of the comments. Others who commented said they live in Pasco, Burbank and Walla Walla.

Twenty-two of the 87 commenters are pilots or work for Kennewick's Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute, which uses Vista Field to fly doctors in and out multiple times a week.

All but 2 of the 22 pilots and airport users asked the port to keep the airport open, and none was in favor of a proposal to expand the airport, which has an estimated public cost of $42.6 million.

Pilots make up about 0.2 percent of the population of Benton and Franklin counties, according to information from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Washington State Office of Financial Management. But they represent 18 percent of the people who wrote to the Port of Kennewick.

When the pilots and airport users are taken out of the conversation, there still was support to keep the airport open from 30 percent of those who responded to the study.

Of the Port of Kennewick taxpayers who responded to the study and did not appear to have an interest in Vista Field beyond the property taxes they pay, about 70 percent want the airport property closed and redeveloped for other uses.

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