Archive for Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leavenworth County Commission reverses airport decision after arrival of FAA e-mail

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

A World War I doughboy statue stands outside the Leavenworth County Courthouse.

March 23, 2010

After a week that could have confused the calmest multitasking air traffic controller, the Leavenworth County Commission has invited a representative of the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss how to move ahead with studies for a new general aviation airport in the county.

The invitation came after two meetings in the last week on the topic of a possible airport, which led to a decision — and its reversal — to forego further planning on the airport pending a countywide vote.

At the heart of the confusion was an e-mail from Jeffrey Deitering, FAA planning engineer, to Leavenworth County Administrator Heather Morgan and Greg Kaaz, chairman of the Leavenworth County Air and Business Park Committee. The e-mail arrived at the end of Thursday's meeting of the Leavenworth County Commission, at which Commissioners John Flower and Clyde Graeber supported the motion to take no further action regarding an airport study or the airport until a vote of the people.

Deitering wrote in the e-mail that after further review of FAA policies it appeared planning grants could be issued without the county commission passing an ordinance or resolution establishing the county as the airport's sponsor.

Morgan and Kaaz said they were puzzled by the e-mail's arrival and timing. To their knowledge, it was not sent in response to a request from someone from the county or committee, they said.

The FAA's earlier request the county commission pass a resolution or ordinance designating the county as the airport sponsor spurred county commissioners to pass a charter resolution in December allowing the county to establish an airport. That in turn triggered a possible protest petition, a process Leavenworth resident Irene Tork successfully undertook, gathering more than 1,300 signatures for a special election estimated to cost about $30,000.

On Monday, Flower made a motion to rescind the motion he helped pass four days before. He said he determined after a review of the motion, including listening to tapes of the earlier meeting, his vote didn't make sense because taking no action would even preclude a vote on the issue.

Flower and Commissioner J.C. Tellefson said construction of an airport and adjoining business park thought needed to make it work would require bonding and, therefore, approval of Leavenworth County voters. But county commissioners owed it to voters to define what was being proposed before putting the question to taxpayers. And the details of the question could only be learned through a planning process that included further studies, they maintained.

Tellefson compared the process to that of a school bond issue. School boards don't ask voters to approve a plan before finding out where schools are to be built and how much they would cost, he said.

Planning would cost the county and other sponsoring the studies — the cities of Basehor, Lansing, Leavenworth, Tonganoxie and the Leavenworth County Port Authority — as much as $250,000 before all were done, Tellefson conceded. The first expenditure would be the $7,500 local match needed for an FAA site survey ($3,000 of the match would be from the county and the remainder from the other interested jurisdictions).

The two commissioners told Tork and Dewey Gillett, a Leavenworth resident who spoke out Monday against the airport, that the FAA used a step-by-step process when considering airports. The first step, already completed, was a feasibility study that indicated at least 38 planes would be based at the airport. The second step is the required site survey, they said.

If studies done in relation with any steps are negative, the project is killed, Flower and Tellefson said.

With that view, the two commissioners supported rescinding Thursday's motive and another motion confirming the county's interest in pursuing the study of an airport.

Graeber voted against the measure, saying the possible costs of an airport and business park, which he pegged at $15 million to the objections of his fellow commissioners, put "fear in his heart."

Commissioners have already approved the $7,500 site survey but have not followed up with a formal application for a grant from the FAA. On Monday, they let that "on hold" status stand until after the meeting with FAA's Deitering.

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