Mahaska Residents Express Airport Concerns To Regional Airport Board
Oskaloosa, Iowa – The South Central Regional Airport Agency met in regular session Tuesday night.
The regional airport and the board that governs the airport have come under pressure recently from concerned citizens in the Leighton area.
The new regional airport is slated to be built at one of the three sites initially sent by the commission to the FAA for air space approval. The FAA then sent back its findings, clearing the three locations.
Before the public comment portion of the meeting was opened up, Chairman Jim Hansen gave those gathered some background. “I’m sure as all of you are aware, we’ve narrowed this down to three potential sites for a regional airport.” Hansen explained that the boards next task will be to choose a primary and secondary site. “On which, environment studies will occur, master planning will occur and a variety of other documents will be generated.” That process could take between 18 to 24 month, according to Hansen.
Hansen explained that a rating system will be in place in order to assess 30 different factors associated with the sites.
“Of most interest to probably most of you in the room, it would be at that point, when a primary site is determined, that we would go ahead with appraising the properties and getting the discussion of acquisition of land,” further explained Hansen.
Hansen said that the public portion of the comments was there to get information from the public. “I don’t really want to drawn-out discussions about particular issues, but we do want to hear your commentary, hear your concerns.” With that, it was asked to limit comments to 3 minutes per person, and a total of thirty minutes of commentary would be heard.
The board opened up the floor to community members to speak about their concerns.
Larry Van Maanen, who lives northwest of Leighton, was the first area resident to address the board.
Van Maanen asked the board where a cost benefit analysis had been done for the airport project, and if it had, he asked for it to be published.
Chairman Jim Hansen expressed that, that type of process “wasn’t up to this board to determine.”
Van Maanen replied, “That’s not what I asked, I asked has one been done.”
Hansen stated, “I don’t want to get into an argument with you. I’m trying to answer your question – if you would let me do so, I’d appreciate it.”
Van Maanen replied, “OK, have at it.”
Hansen explained that the board has not done a cost benefit analysis, “it’s not a part of our duty.”
Van Maanen broke in asking if a cost benefit analysis had been done by anyone. “That’s a yes or no question.”
Hansen replied, “No, it’s a I don’t know question. It would be up to the City of Oskaloosa, or the City of Pella or Mahaska County to have done it.” Hansen said that if it had been done, it was done prior to the airport board.
Tim Van Maanen addressed the board, “I’m just speaking for what my mind has been hearing of what’s been going on here. I don’t know I, so much, have questions for this association here, but I think there’s been some miscommunication by maybe this board, maybe the people that put this board in place, and the reason I feel there’s been some miscommunication is because a number of years ago, the regional airport, I believe, brought to a vote in Mahaska County and Mahaska County voted it down very substantially. I think the people that wanted the airport was maybe a very very small percentage of Mahaska and Marion County, and so they decided a way to work around the people this next time. So they got together and met, the way I would call it, under the table or behind closed doors and got the ball rolling, and, in fact, put you [board] in place as an association that you can sit there and say, we don’t have to make these decisions because we were just put in place to move this ball forward.”
Van Maanen continued to say that he felt as if those residents of Mahaska and Marion Counties have been misinformed and things “have been done under the table. “And now an association has been put in place that actually now moves ahead regardless of the peoples wishes.”
Van Maanen said he believes the people need to have a voice in the matter in the form of a vote.
Former Oskaloosa City Council member Jimmy Carter was the next area resident to speak in opposition to the regional airport.
Carter, for nearly a decade, has been publically opposed to the regional airport. “I am now more than anything frustrated that we have people up here now that are proceeding with all the studies, the purchasing, the condemning, what ever it might be for a regional airport. I have no say so whether I want to keep you there in that seat or not. Government is suppose to be by the people and for the people. I know that our government leaders appointed you, but then what do we do when we don’t like what you’re doing? A vast majority don’t like what you’re doing, and we’d like to see it changed. We don’t know why it wasn’t left in the hands of the leaders we could vote out in a November election.”
Carter continued by saying he respected the position the board members have been appointed to, “but I don’t respect the fact that we don’t have a lot of right or say on what is going on in our community, within our county. As previously said, this should be a Mahaska County vote.”
Judd Vandervort asked Mike Nardini why he believed that Pella needed the new airport. Nardini is the Pella City Manager and is staff for the SCRAA board. “The airport has been ruled a safety issue by the Federal Aviation Administration.” Nardini said that it’s unable to safely handle it’s largest aircraft, which are Category C.
Vandervort then asked if a representative from Oskaloosa would like to answer why Oskaloosa needs an airport. Michael Schrock answered on behalf of Oskaloosa by saying, “it is viewed as a good partership opportunity. We also see the necessity of trying to utilize assets that don’t produce anything for us now, maybe they could produce something for us in the future. The regional project is a good way of trying to accomplish that.”
Vandervort asked the same question of the Mahaska County representative. Joe Warrick is Mahaska County’s representative on the board. “We have an opportunity now to combine two into one and do a regional situation, that looks like a benefit to our area. We no longer can stand alone out here by ourselves, we have to partner up.” Warrick highlighted some areas in the state that have partnered up. “If we want to stay competitive in Iowa, and have a voice, we’ve got to regionalize and we’ve got to work together. This is just one of the things that can bring us together.”
Warrick then focused on Oskaloosa’s current airport. “We talk about the airport out here. It was not designed to be an airport, it was a landing field, a practice landing field for WWII training pilots in Ottumwa. There’s another one just like it at Pekin, they built a school on it. Oskaloosa had the benefit about 50 years ago to access that and have a hard surface runway versus a sod field that they had in the southeast part of town. That worked at that time, I think it’s used up it’s time and it’s time to move on – to build a more modernistic airport”
Former Oskaloosa Mayor and Iowa State Senator Tom Rielly took an opportunity to have his thoughts on the airport heard.
“I come here as a citizen in support of this regionalized airport. I think it’s just good government,” Rielly said. “I think we need to start working more on a regionalized basis. We can’t keep doing business as usual for transportation infrastructure… I think we have a tremendous opportunity.”
Rielly said that he believes that communities need to start working together on a regional basis, “We have to start working together. If that means we can start merging two airports into one, nearby a 4 lane highway, close to a rail intermodel, I really think that puts a feather in our cap for economic development.”
“I think we owe it to these people, and we owe it to the citizens of Oskaloosa and Mahaska County to answer some of these questions that are out there,” said Rielly. He believes that missed communication opportunities, “has really caused a serious problem here. It potentially could cause a serious setback that would hurt all communities and all transportation infrastructure.”
Current Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Doland was the last to speak. “I’ve come as a private citizen, as well,but am also a county supervisor. Was just elected to the board of supervisors. I don’t carry their opinion with me here, just as a private citizen,”
Doland touched on his recent campaign in the special election for supervisor, “It was noted, by several local politicians, that this vote, ah, between Mr. Rielly and myself was a referendum on the airport. Probably didn’t have a chance to get elected without having some support of the people of Leighton, and I think that they spoke loud and clear, and so I think we should listen to their voices.” Doland went on to say, “There are other decisions that have been made in the past I have concern with, and primary as a representative of Mahaska County, my question would be on money side of it.”
During Dolands campaign, he said he sent out 3600 questionnaires, and received 300 of those back. In that questionnaire he said he was “asking people if they would support the use of eminent domain for farmers ground for an airport.” Doland says that only 2 of the questionnaires returned were in favor of the use of eminent domain. “I don’t think that there’s a real need for a public vote. I think that we’ve had enough public votes. We know what public sentiment says.”
With that, the public comment portion of the meeting ended.
The board then set about setting a date and time for an information meeting with the public. The board settled on April 18th at 6pm. The location is yet to be determined.
The board then also set about creating a communications committee and a rating committee.
The communications committee will have the responsibility of setting up a new website for the association to help consolidate all available information in one location.
The rating committee will begin the process of reviewing the process of how each site will be graded.
The board’s next meeting will be April 18th at 6pm, at a site yet to be determined.