Anger Is Prevelant At Airport Meeting
Pella, Iowa – The Pella Community Center is home to The Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium. It’s capacity is just over 325. On Thursday evening nearly every seat was filled as residents of Oskaloosa, Leighton and Pella, along with others throughout Marion and Mahaska counties, gathered for an informational meeting on the upcoming regional airport project.
The regional airport discussion began in July of 2010 with a meeting being held in Pella. A directive to work cooperatively in a regionalized approach was handed down to local municipalities by, then Transportation Chair, Oberstar.
Michael Schrock, city manager for Oskaloosa and liaison from the city to the regional airport board, said that the 28E agreement is often the center of discussion when it comes to the airport project.
During March of 2012, the three parties involved in the 28E agreement – Pella, Oskaloosa and Mahaska County – each held public meetings over the 28E agreement and the creation of the airport board that would be spawned from its adoption.
Only the City of Oskaloosa had citizens speak out against the creation of the airport.
Eventually, all three governmental entities passed the resolution unanimously.
The South Central Regional Airport Agency held an informational meeting, and had the evening broken up into two separate portions. The first portion, which was opened up by the SCRAA board Chairman Jim Hansen, covered a presentation outlining the timeline of how the project was born and how it got to the point it is currently.
The second portion of the meeting was to break out into some side rooms where representatives would answer questions. In the cafeteria, site selection representatives were to be located. In a separate room, room 204, city representatives would wait to answer questions in a one on one format.
“Is it possible we could all just stay here, and so that everybody could hear all the questions, and that we could be as a group?” was the question posed by an audience member to Hansen. Members in the audience broke out into applause.
“Our intent is to give everyone the opportunity to speak one on one with whoever they might need to do so,” Hansen said in response.
The city managers of Pella and Oskaloosa then presented a PowerPoint presentation, where at the end a woman from the audience rose, “Sir, with all due respect, the majority of us would like to remain in this room, where we all would like to hear what you have to say. We don’t want to break down.”
Once again, some members of the audience broke out into applause.
You can view the PowerPoint presentation here – http://www.oskaloosaiowa.org/DocumentCenter/View/309
Some members of the audience then began to yell at the city managers, questioning if there would be a vote. Another yelled “this is America”.
Then another audience member yelled, “We request a board member come out on stage.” “We’ll just sit right here and wait for them,” another said.
The group talked amongst themselves for a period before another woman stood up suggesting that everyone go to room 204. Room 204 is where the two city mangers had gone to answer questions on a one on one basis.
Once most of those who had been in attendance crammed their way into the room, some then began to question police, that were on the scene, about the capacity of the room. “You’re in authority here, what’s going on?” one resident said to a Pella Police Officer.
During this, the two city managers continued to discuss the project with individuals in small groups and on an individual basis, many times with angry residents questioning them over policy and funding.
Another woman questioned the same officer about room capacity, “You should find out sir, I do not feel safe in here.”
“You are to protect my safety if a fire were to break out,” another said to the officer, in what appeared to be an attempt to have the meeting taken back to the auditorium. “I do not feel safe in this environment sir,” she once again said.
More people were attempting to enter the room. “Let’s go back to the auditorium,” a man yelled out.
“When are you going to put this on a ballot?” Another yelled out over the buzz of the crowd.
A Leighton area resident then demanded the members of the media to leave, to make room, so that others could enter the room.
Another person then called an emergency number asking them what the allowable number of people in room 204 is. Within minutes of this call, a fire truck arrives on the scene, along with more police officers, where they set the maximum for that room to 50 persons. At least one attendee had to be coaxed from the room by officers under protest.
A resident then questioned a member of the press about an article they had written, and proceeded to call him “Chicken S**t”.
Hostility towards the press, or a press blackout from those concerned with the airport, has been fairly common… with a few exceptions. A victory party for Mark Doland then turned into an informational meeting about the regional airport. The press was not allowed to stay for the informational meeting after Doland made remarks concerning his recent election, but the new supervisor stayed in attendance.
“Let’s go back in the auditorium so everybody can hear all the questions and all the answers. Listen, you guys had your say out there. Now you set the precedent, we should be able to respond in kind.” someone in the room said over the hum of the crowd.
“They’re scared,” Another yelled out.
“They don’t support the Constitution,” another said.
“What’s so difficult about going out there and answering the questions?” the member from the crowd said again.
“We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity,” Pella City Manager Mike Nardini responded.
As I continued to try and find someone willing to speak about their concerns over the airport, I was again informed by Leighton area residents that this wasn’t a public meeting and therefore my privileges as a member of the media were not in effect.
I was finally directed to TARA (Taxpayers Against Regional Airport) spokesperson Rob Hammann. Hammann has been active in opposition to the regional airport and has helped provide a website for residents to share their thoughts about the project and its potential impact. www.noregionalairport.com
“I think it was poorly held,” Hammann said of the meeting as it was ongoing. “I do think there’s an intention to dodge the tough questions that need to be answered.” He believes that the tough questions need to be answered for those who would be impacted by the project.
Hammann said the first question he wants answered is, “Why there’s no representation on the committee from the people that are directly affected by it.”
“The 28E seems like a complete snow job to me. These two cities that are 14 miles apart have come up with this agreement to drop cement in the middle of the two cities. That doesn’t directly affect the cities, but it has a huge effect on those people out there, and there’s no representation for those people,” Hammann continued.
Hammann said that even with representation from the Mahaska County Board of Supervisors, “that person may not be directly affected by cement being placed in their property.”
“I think the process needs to be slowed down,” Hammann expressed about the project. “There has to be a forum where the tough questions are answered.”
The SCRAA will be deciding in the near future on what site will be designated as the primary site, and what one will be the secondary site.
Once a primary is selected, the study concerning the location could take up to two years before talks of land acquisition would begin.
If you’re interested in learning more about the regional airport, you can visit the Oskaloosa city website at – http://www.oskaloosaiowa.org/index.aspx?NID=297
*Editors Note – A change was made in a quote from Mr. Hammann from “don’t” to “do”.