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Port of Kennewick sets Vista Field vote for March

The Port of Kennewick Commission agreed Tuesday to vote in early March on whether to keep Vista Field open or close the airport.

The port now is waiting for what Tim Arntzen, the port's executive director, called the final piece of evidence to help the commissioners make an educated decision. Arntzen said it will be a closure and redevelopment cost worksheet, as well as a report on the economic impact of the Kennewick airport.

He said the final report will be less than 10 pages and contain easily digestible information for the public to understand.

"I'll be happy as a clam when we get it to a vote," he said.

Arntzen presented to the commission a tentative timeline on moving forward on the Vista Field issue and recommended a vote March 10. The port already has made many reports and documents related to Vista Field available on its website, www.portofkennewick.org, for public review, he said.

Commissioners agreed with Arntzen on the need to settle the issue, which has proved to be a drain on the port's resources.

Commissioner Gene Wagner said he felt so frustrated that he recently wrote a letter to other commissioners suggesting he would "seriously consider voting to keep the airport open" without subsidizing airport operations beyond the present level, and to get private investments or grants for capital improvements at Vista Field.

His letter also suggested the port work with the city to foster airport operations and develop lands outside the airport consistent with the objectives of the Vista Entertainment District plan.

Wagner wouldn't say which way he's going to vote. There's good and bad to both alternatives, he said. "(But) I have never said I wanted the airport closed," he said.

"Wagner's letter sets some parameters to keep the airport open," said Arntzen.

In 2009, the port lost an estimated $19,700 in operations at Vista Field. But in 2007, the port made a profit of $5,000 at Vista.

Airport supporters aren't worried about the outcome of a vote. Vista Field will stay open, said Chep Gauntt, a farmer and a pilot, after the meeting.

The public already has spoken on the issue, he said, referring to the defeat of several incumbent Kennewick City Council members in November and a port commissioner who favored closing the airport.

Commissioners on Tuesday also asked staff to apply for state grants to help improve Vista Field. The money could be used to update the port's 2006 Vista Field Master Plan, and if possible, also pay for capital and safety improvements, commissioners told the staff.

The port would withdraw its grant application if the airport is closed, Arntzen said.

-- Pratik Joshi: 582-1541; pjoshi@tricityherald.com; Business Beat blog at www.tricityherald.com

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