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Airpark feasibility study will continue, despite objections

Commissioners for the Port of South Whidbey still can’t quite agree on whether the port should build a general aviation airport in Langley.

So on Wednesday, they authorized a meeting between the Federal Aviation Administration and Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert, financial advisor Dane Anderson and airport consultant David Ketchum to explore the possibilities.

Though the vote was unanimous, not all commissioners are onboard with the concept.

“The essential problem is that we seem to be committing more and more to this project,” said Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle. “Is this something we should be doing? Frankly, I’m not anxious to go forward.”

Ketchum of Airside, a consulting and design firm in Greenbank, is the author of the port’s airport study released in January.

He told commissioners that the FAA and the state might be willing to pay up to roughly 97.5 percent of the cost of acquiring and building an airport at the site of Whidbey Airpark on Crawford Road in Langley.

The 43-acre facility, essentially a 2,434-foot paved runway, is for sale at

$1.2 million. Total project cost to buy land and construct an airport would be roughly

$5 million.

Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden is worried about accessibility.

“I’m concerned about Crawford Road, which has no public opening to Highway 525,” she said. “How would employees, travelers, visitors or construction crews and equipment get to the airport?”

Just a short span of Crawford Road is public. Most is private road, including the part that connects Brooks Hill Road to Highway 525 and passes the airpark.

Ketchum agreed that improvements to Crawford Road are essential to move forward.

“Island County would have to be involved in the discussion,” he said.

Though the county has considered making improvements to the road over the past few years, the uncertain economy makes the short-term prospect of an upgrade unlikely.

Ketchum said that, following the meeting with the FAA, the next step is to develop a master airport plan and submit an environmental assessment, a combined project that would cost a minimum of $60,000, most of it paid for by a government grant.

He added that the FAA expects that, if an assessment is paid for, that will be a clear signal the port plans to move forward.

“But it’s hard to tell in the end who would be paying for what,” Ketchum said. “It’s not just an airport, but an economic engine for the whole South End.”

Slinden said she has serious reservations moving forward unless commissioners agree this is something they want to pursue. She cited Port Townsend’s current airport woes.

“They have a much larger economic base than we do, with established industries and businesses, and their airport is struggling,” she said. “It would be far more practical to scale back our plans; perhaps buy and develop an incubator for small island businesses; something we can afford to do. If we want an airport, let’s move forward. If not, let’s stop now.”

But Tapert prefers taking the longer view.

“Through already existing funding sources at the state and federal level, the money could be found,” he said. “I think if the county knew there was a long-term commitment by us to economic development, the road project would be reconsidered, especially as it’s being done for the public’s benefit.

“It may take 20 to 50 years, but the planning needs to start now,” he said.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said on Thursday that the plan to build a connector route is dead, however.

“It would cost $7 million in 2009 dollars and take the county’s entire resources for two years to build that road,” he said. “We put it on a list for stimulus money and it was refused, so the project is unfunded and has been removed from our current six-year plan.”

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