Finding Answers To Questions Continues To Be Struggle In Regional Airport Debate

This just one of many signs that have sprung up near Leighton in the past month.

This is just one of many signs that have sprung up near Leighton in the past month.

Oskaloosa, Iowa – The old saying of “Finding common ground” may carry more impact in the coming months and years as plans to develop the regional airport progresses.

The newest round to develop a regional airport had its first public meeting back at the end of 2010, with them being held at the Oskaloosa Public Library.

Flash-forward to June of 2012, the South Central Regional Airport Agency held its first public meeting after the 28E was signed by Pella, Oskaloosa and Mahaska County, with the Oskaloosa City Council being the only ones in Mahaska County to hear of any opposition to the project.

The South Central Regional Airport Agency consists of 6 members. Three members on the board are appointed by the City of Pella, while two additional are appointed by the City of Oskaloosa. Mahaska County has one seat on the board, with the Mahaska County Engineer providing staff support.

Leighton area resident Alicia Groenendyk, who’s home could potentially be impacted by the regional airport, said that area neighbors started talking about the project at the end of 2012. She’s started a Facebook page to help inform her neighbors about the project. “Well, I know that our neighbors [have] been emailing us with all the meetings they’ve heard about and I pass it along.”

South Central Regional Airport Agency Chairman Jim Hansen says he also wants the public to have as much knowledge as possible about the project. He said that in their next scheduled meeting, the Agency will, “put together a communication committee that is going to be responsible for getting the word out, having the website set up so we have a single place where all of the information can be gathered and made available.”

That charge by Leighton residents about a lack of information is but one reason why the SCRAA is developing a communications strategy, but they also want to make sure it’s accurate and the same on all government sites that carry the groups information, “I’ve noticed that while the information starts the same, it doesn’t always make it in totally on both websites,” Hansen explained. And if this is also in response to concerns by Leighton residents, “It’s in response to that, it’s also kind of been my goal to make sure this is open and as public as possible because it’s a big project. It’s going to impact a few people’s lives pretty significantly and there’s no reason to try to conceal that. We want to make sure people have full information and what their rights are.”

Alicia Groenendyk stands in front of her residents along Highway 163 near Leighton (photo by Don Hubbard)

Alicia Groenendyk stands in front of her residence along Highway 163 near Leighton (photo by Don Hubbard)

For Leighton residents, they fear that it may already be too late to influence the outcome of the airport, and residents like Groenendyk believe the process wasn’t as open as it could have been. “I know in the beginning, I thought there were a lot of meetings that were hush hush, that not even the people of Osky, Leighton and Pella knew about it.”

Groenendyk added, “Right now I wish we had more time. Like I’m feeling we just got hit all at once and it’s like it’s been going on awhile, but now we’re just finding out about it, and there may not be enough time to voice our opinion – to fight and try to keep our land. I would hate to see good, hard working people lose their land and I hope that they all get to know the facts so that they can help because I don’t want it to be just a one person, one family, thing. I want a whole community to be able to take a stand as well.”

Already, the community has been joining together to discuss the airport. Recently, Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Doland was part of a closed door meeting with Leighton area residents who packed the local community center to discuss the airport. The meeting drew some controversy because he held a closed door meeting with area residents that restricted access to the media.

The above confusion about what a document says is something both Hansen and Groenendyk have both said they hope to avoid, and to just provide the facts to area residents.

This passenger jet prepares to land at Chicago's Midway Airport. (photo by Ken Allsup)

This passenger jet prepares to land at Chicago’s Midway Airport. (photo by Ken Allsup)

At this point, the process of selecting a site continues. According to Hansen, the FAA has passed all three potential sites past the Air Space Review. “The board is now going to go through the process of rating those 3 sites in order to come up with a number 1 and a number 2 site, which would then have follow-up studies done and plans put together on it.”

The process to evaluate the two primary sites, that include environmental evaluations and master plans, could take as long as 18 to 24 months.

The words eminent domain create a vast array of emotions for people. Hansen explained when he felt the board would use eminent domain. “As a very last resort. That’s my understanding from talking with Jerry Searle, who works with Snyder & Associates, who’s our consulting engineer on this. He has done any number of airports around the state… he can only remember one instance where they had to begin eminent domain in order to acquire property. The process is, as I understand it, we use an FAA process which starts the negation at an appraised fair market value. It’s not like when you’re buying a house and it’s listed for $250,000 and whatever you offer $200,000. If it appraises at $250,000, that’s where you’re going to start the negation process. There’s no doubt in my mind, wherever this ends up, the land owners will be offered fair price and above that more than likely.”

In the case of farmers in the Leighton area, the concern of lost revenue from working the land in the future could also play a factor in the negotiations, “Well, those are incidental damages which I would presume would be, or could be, included in the value of the land,” Hansen said.

But for residents like Alicia Groenendyk, “I just don’t want hard working farmers to lose more farm ground, because they already lost some ground when they put the bypass in. And so these same people are going to be affected again.”

She would like to say to her fellow county residents, “I would just ask them to take a step back and imagine it being their land, their house being taken away. They may think it’s good for the county, but why can’t we make work what we already have.”

Raising questions is part of the point about some homemade signs that have sprung up along 163 near Leighton. Hansen said that, “it’s meant to raise questions about what’s going on and have people ask questions, and so, I’m all for that. Like I said at the beginning, this is a big project and it’s going to impact a lot of people, and whether your ultimately for it, or against it, or don’t care, it’s best to know what’s going on with it.”

The locations of the three potential locations of the proposed regional airport. (submitted image)

The locations of the three potential locations of the proposed regional airport. (submitted image)

In the end, Groenendyk added, “I think as a community, we’re really sticking together and I hope we can continue to do that. I don’t want it to be like a big fight, we’ve just got to find a solution I guess.”

The South Central Regional Airport meets today at 6:00 pm in the Oskaloosa City Council Chambers. It is open to the public.

Editors Note- This article has been edited in order to satisfy a retracted statement over ownership involving a Facebook page.

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To learn more about the regional airport project, you can follow the links below.

Regional Airport 28E Agreement
South Central Regional Airport Authority – Pella
South Central Regional Airport Authority – Oskaloosa
Current Airport Presentation
Iowa Aviation System Plan 2010-2030

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