As I read yet another opinion letter opposing the public purchase of the Oak Harbor Airport, I was not surprised. The skepticism is entirely understandable, not because of what the airport is, but because of what the airport isn’t. Having languished under private, out-of-county ownership, cut off from federal aviation tax dollars, the airport has become irrelevant to most islanders. It’s no longer considered a part of our infrastructure. Apathy toward its future was a predictable result.
While I cannot speak for Kenmore/Lynk air, I believe it’s safe to assume the lack of runway, hangar and grounds maintenance over the decades played a significant role in our community losing scheduled air service to Seattle. That’s a shame. Future generations will have to live with the decisions we make today.
If the Islands only airport is shut down, a definite possibility in private hands, it is exceedingly unlikely a new airport will be permitted. The future could be far more promising. It’s entirely possible that piston or even electric air taxi service could be operating out of the airport within a few years given minimal federal investment. Sustainable, green aircraft are the future of short-haul commercial aviation.
As a pilot, when I fly locally and nationally, I cannot help but notice that for our population size and the strategic value this island represents to the nation’s national defense posture, we have one of the worst airports I have ever seen. All while being completely dependent, in a seismic region, on two 80-year-old bridges to the north and a struggling ferry system to the south. I agree our airport would not be the only solution in a significant natural disaster, but it would certainly be part of the solution. It also sits at a much higher elevation than the Naval Air Station in the event of a tsunami.
As for financials, through hanger rentals (there is a years-long waiting list) and fuel sales, the airport has always covered its operating cost. Then there’s the millions in tax dollars we are likely leaving on the table by not having a high-functioning, vibrant municipal airport like Skagit County, Arlington and Friday Harbor.
Ports are public institutions designed to capitalize on their ability to help make communities economically vibrant. They tackle projects that benefit the community which are hard for private entities to do well. I do respect the private party’s interest, but am confident that due to funding restraints and succession issues, like the one we are currently experiencing, no significant change should be expected if our airport remains private. I would, therefore, contend that given the economic, transportation, environmental, security, vocational and recreational opportunities the airport promises, at roughly the cost to the public of a highway round-about, it represents a good investment.
I applaud the Port of Coupeville for exploring this purchase. Pro or con, this issue is an important community decision that will have long-term implications for our Island home. Thank you for listening and please consider sharing your thoughts with your elected officials.