In reversal, Port of Coupeville isn’t going to buy airport

In a surprise move, the Port of Coupeville commissioners voted Friday not to purchase the Oak Harbor airport after all.

The decision was made during an on-again, off-again special meeting that began with a lengthy executive session. For the first time, the commissioners were testy with each other in discussing whether it made financial sense to move forward with buying the property, which is officially known as the A.J. Eisenberg Airport.

The port’s plans to purchase the airport has caused controversy for months across Whidbey Island, with two sides arguing over the potential benefits and risks of the decision.

Commissioner David Day moved to terminate the port’s purchase and sale agreement with the A.J. Eisenberg estate. Day and Commissioner John Mishasek voted in favor of the motion, and Commissioner John Callahan voted against it.

Day drove the discussion, reiterating concerns he has previously stated that the port does not have the financial ability to operate the airport. Day added that a port financial official advised the commissioners that purchasing the airport would be an unwise financial decision for the port; Day also said Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos warned that the airport would be a tremendous burden on staff.

Callahan stated that he wished to continue with the purchase for the time being because the title agency handling the sale has stated it will not close the agreement with litigation pending, which would give the port commissioners more time to consider the purchase. He said the port will lose $50,000 in escrow if it didn’t move forward.

In a public comment, private pilot Robert DeLaurentis stated his intent to work with the port on rehabilitating the airport, which he intends to purchase. He verbally offered the port the first right of refusal on the airport should he or his foundation ever sell it.

Adjacent property owner Geri Morgan, who assigned her right of first refusal on the airport to the port to allow them to make the purchase, said in the public comment that she was disappointed with the decision.

“I think you’ve made a huge mistake,” she said.

The Port of Coupeville filed a countersuit earlier this week against DeLaurentis, who had sued over who has the right to buy the airport. It appears, however, that the litigation will soon be over.