The Port of Kennewick hit the reset button on Vista Field, and that's not all bad.
After years of controversy, study and planning, it's frustrating to see the future of Kennewick's airport still undecided. But the botched attempt to find a fixed-based operator to run the airport clearly signals the need to revisit the issue.
Port commissioners decided as much last month, voting to spend up to $225,000 on a study to help determine the best use of the property.
For proponents of the airport, who thought they'd already won the debate, the trip back to the drawing board must be maddening.
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We're sympathetic, but previous attempts to complete a long-term plan for the property have proved inadequate. We lauded the master plan when it was approved last year, hoping it would bring resolution to Vista Field.
But the fact is, the document came with a $1.4 million hole. That's the estimated cost of improvements in the master plan with no identified source of funds -- just the vague notion it would come from private developers.
When negotiations with a potential fixed-base operator recently collapsed, it was partly because of shortcomings in the port's master plan for Vista Field.
That's not to say that the players didn't bungle the talks. The port's initial salvo in the contract talks included provisions that no sane investor could accept.
The offer combined a clause for the operator to secure funding for major upgrades at the airfield with an escape hatch that would essentially allow the port to confiscate the improvements at will.
That said, we've seen little evidence that Mike Shannon, the local dentist seeking a contract to operate the airport, made more than a cursory attempt to help find a middle ground.
Port officials complained about the difficulty in scheduling meetings with Shannon or a representative.
The wish list he presented to the port in April contained all the elements needed to guarantee some misunderstandings.
From our perspective, both sides presented untenable positions -- which isn't an unusual place to start negotiations -- but they then failed to pursue the dialogue needed to move toward an amicable middle ground.
We've always been a bit skeptical of the port's contention that Shannon's proposal for improvements at the airport would result in an additional cost to taxpayers of $20 million to $33 million over 30 years. Shannon has described the estimate as out of whack.
Even if all the cost estimates are accurate, the price tag includes items that were part of the port's original proposal. There are costs associated with such work, but it's unfair to describe them as additional costs since they were there all along.
But more to the point, the failed negotiations, fuzzy estimate of costs and questions about who should pay for what improvements all stem from the same root cause.
Plans for the airport -- despite the best efforts of many well-intentioned community members -- aren't adequate. If they were, the airport's future wouldn't still be in limbo.
We appreciate Carl Cadwell's offer to negotiate a contract to operate the airport after the talks with Shannon failed.
But until key questions are answered, Cadwell isn't any likelier to reach an agreement.
It's why we reluctantly endorse the port's plan to spend up to $225,000 on a study to decide what to do with Vista Field.
The key will be to ensure the scope of the study is broad enough to provide the basis for a solid plan.
It needs to include more than two scenarios, for instance. A study that compares closing the airport to a major overhaul at taxpayer expense would stack the deck.
At the least, the study needs to include a middle option that looks at the minimum needed to keep Vista Field as a viable airport.
And any estimate of costs needs to clearly identify who will pay the tab. To make an informed decision, taxpayers need to know how much they're spending and what they're getting for their money.
Ideally, all the debate and study over Vista Field would already have answered those questions, but that hasn't happened.
It's imperative that this next study leads to definitive answers.