The Port of Kennewick plans to spend up to $225,000 on a new study to decide what to do with its Vista Field Airport.
Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen admitted the price tag sounds costly, but he told commissioners they will get more specific possibilities for the airfield and the study will involve the public more.
"I think we are at a pivotal point with the airport," said Port Commissioner Don Barnes at Tuesday's commission meeting.
And while the port shouldn't write a blank check for the new study, commissioners also shouldn't let money constrict the scope of the report, said Barnes, who was appointed just recently to the board.
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"This airport deserves to have a thorough review," he said.
On Tuesday, commissioners gave the go-ahead for port staff to look for a firm to do an independent review of the small airport near the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick.
Commissioners decided they needed another look at the options for the airport after rejecting a proposal last month from businessman Mike Shannon to be the airport's fixed-based operator.
The port has been struggling to find a way to revitalize the 90-acre airfield after deciding two years ago to keep the airport open in hopes of recruiting more businesses to the property.
Now, Barnes said, a decision needs to be made to get the property more in line with the port's objectives of driving economic development, creating jobs and enhancing the quality of life.
He said the new study should put the port on the path to achieve that.
Ben Floyd, with the Richland consulting firm Anchor QEA, told the port that a consultant will be asked to come up with alternatives for Vista Field.
Choices will range from closing the airfield, making no changes or creating a "Vista Field on steroids," with capital improvements and marketing, said Floyd, who is helping the port with the request for proposals process.
The study will include potential economic benefits and a cost analysis.
Floyd said the estimated costs for closing the airport also will be part of the report.
The study will be done using the State Environmental Policy Act process, which includes public input at various stages, he said.
Arntzen said the public will be more involved than when the issue was studied in 2010.
Ed Frost, Kennewick resident and city planning commission member, asked commissioners to get some concrete data out of the study, not just extrapolated information.
He said he also would like to see the study address previous predictions of private investments at the airport and job creation.
Then, voters in the port district should make the decision, Frost said.
Commission President Skip Novakovich agreed the study should address those questions.
He said the commission voted in 2010 to keep the airport after being told that private development would happen. But the private development that has occurred ultimately did not help the port's operating expenses, he said.
The port has lost an average of about $25,000 a year on the airport since 1995, according to port documents.
The loss has been as high as almost $90,000, and is projected to be $35,000 this year.
Commissioner Gene Wagner said they need a decision soon. The port already has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and a lot of time on the issue. Deadline for proposals is 5 p.m. Aug. 10.
The commission will appoint a selection committee including a representative from Kennewick, Richland, West Richland, Benton City and Benton County, as well as a Vista Field user and a citizen representative.
The port plans to ask pilots who base their aircraft at Vista Field to choose a representative for the committee.
The committee is expected to be appointed at the first port meeting in August.
The committee will then interview the three top firms identified by port staff and make recommendations to the commission.
Arntzen said the port should still be able to put the issue to an advisory vote next year.
Anyone interested in being a citizen representative on the committee, can call the port at 586-1186 Ext. 2.