Just when we think one long-running issue finally has been resolved in the Tri-Cities, we find out there still is plenty of room for debate.
Vista Field Airport is back in the public eye.
It had seemed the fate of the Kennewick airport finally was settled last year, when the port commissioners unanimously approved an updated master plan.
That decision was further solidified later in 2011, when the commissioners directed staff to enter negotiations with Mike Shannon to take over as the fixed-based operator for the airport.
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At the time, Shannon, a Kennewick dentist, said he would need about $40,000 per year to provide the service, which was to include a certified flight instructor, certified aircraft maintenance personnel and staff for day-to-day operations.
But last week, commissioners heard an entirely different figure. Shannon presented a proposal for $20 million to $33 million over a 30-year contract to operate the airport. We don't need a calculator to know that averages out to a lot more than $40,000 per year.
Sure, the original figure was for operations and the new estimate adds capital improvements, but it still gave port commissioners a case of sticker shock.
The port staff has been working with Shannon since last fall to come to some agreement. The only way to fund the airport at that level would mean raising taxes. That's something nobody likes to hear.
And, quite frankly, spending $1 million a year to keep Vista Field running would be a tough sell in this community. Especially since there are viable airports just a few minutes away in Pasco and Richland.
The port's cost would include a management fee that would start at $60,000 a year to Shannon, a 50 percent increase over the initial estimate.
Closing the airport has long been suggested by some in the community, given the expense and the fact that it hasn't had a fixed-based operator for years. Many view the airport's location right in the city's entertainment and retail district as less than ideal.
On the other side of the debate are local pilots and businesses that use the airport and say its existence is vital to the economic health of the community.
We're not condemning Shannon for changing the initial estimate to operate the airport. We're guessing he has done some due diligence and his homework has shown that it's a lot more expensive and a lot more complex than he originally expected.
He is a dentist, after all, not an airport manager.
And we expect his figures reflect what he thinks it will take to make the airport successful.
We give Shannon credit for stepping up to take on the task when many others would not. But we're skeptical about the potential benefits justifying that kind of cost for keeping the airport open.
Taxpayers need to know what the obligation of the port --and taxpayers -- would be vs. private investments in that annual operating budget. And what kind of consequences there would be should Shannon fall short of the agreed upon goals.
Like anything else where public money is being spent, the recipient of the funds needs to be held accountable, with benchmarks and deadlines in place.
The future of Vista Field is once again cloudy, much to the chagrin of its dedicated users.
But more needs to be known about the actual costs and benefits to taxpayers before the port can sign an agreement with any private operator for the facility.