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UPDATE | Port says no to more airport talks

Port of South Whidbey commissioners voted 2-1 on Wednesday to discontinue discussions on the acquisition of privately-owned Whidbey Airpark in Langley.

Port Commissioner Geoff Tapert was the lone dissenter.

Port Commissioner Rolf Seitle said the idea of a general aviation airport run by the port was tempting, but there are too many obstacles, including the uncertainties of government funding.

“There is no guarantee that, after spending a lot of money, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) would reimburse us,” Seitle said.

“One requirement would be to pay for and operate an airport in perpetuity, and we would need a lot of public support in the form of taxpayer dollars to do that,” he said.

The 43-acre facility with a 2,434-foot paved runway on Crawford Road is for sale at $1.2 million after a recent price reduction. Total project cost to build an airport, not including access, would be roughly $5 million.

In January, the port accepted a study from airport consultant David Ketchum. Funding for the study was authorized by a grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation. The state contributed $28,500, while the port’s share was $1,500 and was mandated by the port’s comprehensive plan.

Tapert endorsed acquiring the airport as a way of promoting economic development. He argued that owning land that could be leased to mainland businesses would encourage the creation of family-wage jobs on the island.

But since the FAA is not in the business of buying property for development, the agency was reluctant to schedule future meetings and Ketchum proposed talking to the state Department of Transportation.

Both Seitle and Port Commissioner Lynae Slinden were convinced that the port’s best hope lay in expanding facilities at the Langley marina.

“The marina has the potential to pay its own way, and then some,” Seitle said.

Another major roadblock is the status of Crawford Road. The county has said it would cost $7 million in 2009 dollars — plus a two-year commitment — to build a new road from Highway 525 to the airpark. The current road is privately owned.

“If we had continued in talks with the state or FAA, we might have secured funding for a further study leading to creation of an airport master plan,” Seitle explained. “That would cost up to $30,000, of which part would be reimbursed.”

The port would need to expand the runway, relocate hangars, add lighting and fencing and generally make significant, and costly, improvements.

“There is no certainty that the government would pay anything back,” Seitle said. “The prospect doesn’t pencil out and continuing talks is a slippery, and potentially expensive, slope.”

The next port meeting is 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 8 at the Freeland Library.

Jeff VanDerford can be reached at 221-5300 or jvanderford@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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