Some taxpayers asked for an independent review of Vista Field and Port of Kennewick commissioners are going to give them what they wanted.
The commission asked port staff Tuesday to start the process of finding a firm to conduct a study on Vista Field that would include options such as upgrading the airport or closing it.
Status quo isn't working by any measurements, said port Executive Director Tim Arntzen.
And the commission unanimously decided Tuesday to reject Mike Shannon's proposal to be the airport's fixed-based operator and end negotiations.
The port's solution to the struggling airport was finding an operator to provide services such as flight lessons and aircraft repair and maintenance as well as recruiting businesses to the 90-acre airfield nearthe Three Rivers Convention Center. The port chose Shannon of Shannon Dental as the operator about nine months ago.
But negotiations between the port and Shannon broke down. Port attorney Lucinda Luke told the commission Tuesday that the port and Shannon were too far apart to continue negotiations.
The port had estimated the items asked for by Shannon in a list would cost about $20 million to $33 million over 30 years. Luke said a certified public accounting firm and a consultant review of staff work corroborated the numbers, but found the cost could be higher.
Documents received by the Herald show that costs could reach $36 million in 30 years, not including costs such as buying the operator's construction, material and equipment at the end of the lease, participating in buying material and equipment and subordinating loans, development and construction costs.
The difference between Shannon's initial proposal and the list he sent to the port in April was an increase of at least $15.7 million during 30 years. Shannon's initial proposal would have cost about $4.8 million in 30 years, according to the report.
Port Commissioner Don Barnes said the port and Shannon do not have a potential framework for an agreement. There has been ample time to reach an agreement, he said.
The investment in the airport is of such a magnitude that taxpayers should have a chance to review it, Barnes said.
The port can't use Federal Aviation Administration dollars for airport capital projects, unlike other airports. It is too close to the Richland and Pasco airports for the FAA to fund it.
That puts the port in a difficult position. Port Commission Chairman Skip Novakovich said they hoped to have a private business run the airport, hoping one could do better. But at this point, there wasn't much choice, other than rejecting Shannon's proposal and moving forward.
Shannon told the commission that he felt like he had been played like a pawn.
"There were no honest negotiations," he said.
Shannon said he didn't realize the port's intent from the beginning was to build a case for closing Vista Field. Otherwise, he said, he would not have participated.
Shannon said the numbers attached to the list of considerations he submitted were fabricated.
If the port put one fraction of the effort it has put into the marina into Vista Field, Shannon said it would be more than what he requested.
Jay Jump, co-owner of BK Attorney Services and one of the airport's tenants, asked the port commission to not use the controversy with Shannon as a reason to step away from Vista Field. As a businessman and a pilot, he said he would like to see the airport remain open.
Kirk Williamson of Kennewick asked commissioners in a letter to hire an independent consultant to examine the cost of operating and maintaining Vista Field, closing the field and the value of the airport property.
"Previous port commissioners have been pressured to make decisions about Vista Field without sufficient knowledge, and with little public discussion except for the few who use the field for their personal use," he wrote.
Arntzen said staff would start working on a scope of work to bring to the port's July meeting so proposals from planning firms can be sought.
Novakovich said he would like to see the true costs and economic benefits.
Barnes said the community should have the chance to say whether the airport should stay open after it is determined how much making substantial upgrades to the airport would take.
It comes down to whether the public is willing to pay what it will cost to operate Vista Field, Arntzen said.
Arntzen suggested using an advisory vote in February or April, and said it would take the whole time to get a review done and bring it to the public. The port has not used an advisory vote for at least a decade.
-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; firstname.lastname@example.org