Skallman Park razed to make way for the airport?

Published on Thu, Oct 31, 2002 by Meg Olson

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Skallman Park razed to make way for the airport?

By Meg Olson

Blaine airport commission efforts to get rolling on expansion met with some grumbling from city council who approved a request to submit a grant application but held back requests to change the capital facilities plan and cut down the trees in Skallman Park.

At the October 28 council meeting airport commission president Doug Fenton asked council to approve cutting down the trees in Skallman Park, located at the south west end of the runway. “They encroach in the airport’s transition zone and as such are safety hazards,” Fenton said.
“The last accident we had at the airport was due to airflow turbulence coming over the trees. He lost control and crashed.” Fenton said available records indicated the accident was in 1984.

Fenton said the trees were not in compliance with federal standards for airports and contravened the city’s own airport ordinance. “We’ve just condemned an easement over a property to the south to remove trees that encroached on the transition zone,” Fenton said. “If we request property owners to remove their trees it would behoove us to clean up our own back yard.” He added the item was before council now because removal of the trees in the condemned easement was imminent and the plan was to bundle the Skallman Park trees into the same contract.

The rest of the 1.5 acre park was also under the axe, according to Fenton, particularly the pond. “It is also in the runway taxi object-free zone and so is contrary to Federal Aviation Administration rules,” Fenton said. Compliance with FAA rules is required before the agency could fund a proposed $8.5 million expansion project which includes lengthening the runway and acquiring more land for development. Skallman Park tops the commission’s list. “In the short term it’s the only piece of land feasible to develop,” Fenton said.

“I think we’ve got the cart before the horse here,” said Bruce Wolf. “The airport consultant has listed four possibilities and one of them was to eliminate the airport.” A feasibility study investigating “the feasibility of extending the airport runway” by consultant David Ketchum was due September 15 but the deadline was pushed back. “It’s my understanding there is no discussion the airport will remain an airport,” Fenton said.

In a presentation to council September 30 Ketchum said his report would examine five options: no action, improving the airport in its current conformation, moving it out of downtown, expanding it or closing it. At the October 28 meeting Tomsic said only one of those options was driving the study. “The specific question we asked him to address was the feasibility of expanding the airport,” he said.

Fenton said there were historical as well as practical reasons the land was better off in the airport’s hands. “Skallman Park was a portion of the land bought in 1947 for use as an airport,” he said. “The airport commission developed it as a picnic area. It was never officially transferred out of airport control while the public works building was and the airport fund was compensated,” he said. Fenton added both the parks board and Trav Skallman, veteran city public works director and the park’s namesake, had agreed that the land was better off in airport hands.

Parks board member Lori Hart disagreed. “What we agreed to was a land swap in concept for a park downtown and that was two years ago,” she said. She said there needed to be further consultation with the parks board before anything was done to the park, which the Blaine Comprehensive Parks Plan lists as part of the park system. “Maybe we could just take out the trees that are a danger, plant new trees and leave it a park,” she said. Hart submitted a letter to council asking that a number of issues be addressed, including ironing out jurisdictional issues, the need for public input and maintaining adequate park space. She also asked “wouldn’t it seem logical to get the results of the feasibility study before requesting the elimination of a park?”

Several members of the audience spoke in defense of the park. Pat Madsen said he had actively supported the airport in two previous referenda asking voters if they wanted to keep it open, but it shouldn’t cost citizens one of their few parks. “The airport to me is as sacred as Skallman Park but if we’re talking about giving away a city park for revenue let’s look at how much revenue is tied up in the airport,” he said.
Local pilot Pat Armijo said the park and the airport could live side by side. “The trees in Skallman Park don’t bother me a bit. As far as turbulence and crosswinds any experienced pilot can deal with it,” he said. He added the airport was important for small planes headed to Alaska and the park could be developed as an overnight camping spot for pilots.
Bob Carruthers said expansion funding seemed to be more the issue than safety. “Over 50 percent of the airports in Washington are out of compliance with FAA standards,” he said. “It hinges on will the airport expand or not.”

Council members were uncomfortable with almost every side of the issue. “It’s a park,” said Marsha Hawkins. “It bothers me that someone can come back 15 years from now and plow down Marine Park.” Ken Ely was concerned that the city was violating its own ordinance by not removing the trees. “We either have to change the ordinance or remove the trees,” he said. Mayor Dieter Schugt said he wanted to clarify Skallman’s feelings about removing the park that bears his name. “My understanding was he thought the park would be replaced,” he said.
Council was not willing to make any decisions on the park, as they had been unwilling earlier in the meeting to back changes to the airport capital facilities plans and balked at submitting a grant application for an Airport General Plan to the FAA. “I don’t understand how we can pass this now without knowing more,” Hawkins said. “I’m not sure I want the pond drained or any of these things done.”

Schugt suggested a special lunch meeting at Skallman Park on Friday, November 1 to see the park. “ Anybody is welcome and no decisions will be made,” he said. The matter would then go to the parks board who would give a recommendation to city council, who may hold public meetings before a decision on cutting the trees or eliminating the park completely is made.

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