Citycouncil races likely to hold key to airport’s future

Published on Thu, Nov 3, 2005 by eg Olson

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City council races likely to hold key to airport’s future

By Meg Olson

The future of Blaine’s airport may be decided in the upcoming election, but it isn’t the loudly debated ballot initiative asking Blaine voters if they want to shut it down that is likely to make or break the facility. It’s the two contested races for seats on Blaine City Council, where the real decisions about the airport will be made.

“Shall the Blaine City Council explore the feasibility of closing the Blaine Municipal Airport,” asks proposition one on the November ballot. It is an advisory measure, designed to take the temperature of the community and help council members decide where they want to turn – towards a $16 million upgrade of the facility, or towards its elimination in favor of another use for the land.

The ballot issue is effectively moot, said mayor John Liebert, because council has already committed to proceeding with a study of alternative uses for the land and will look into any costs and consequences associated with closing the airport when they do. Even if the majority of voters answer no to the question in proposition one, “we would still continue to look at all the possibilities,” Liebert said. The balance of power among the current council members has them almost evenly split between airport-boosters and those who want to take a harder look. This election could change that balance.

Today, there are three city council members who have publicly shown strong support for the airport: Mike Myers, Bob Brunkow and Bruce Wolf. All three have their names on the ballot this fall, but only Brunkow will face an opponent in the coming election: Jason Overstreet.

“My personal position is I don’t support the airport,” Overstreet said. “As a candidate I think the more important issue is to be objective.” Overstreet wants to see the study of alternatives to using the land as an airport, championed by Liebert, go forward and he will make a judgment based on those facts and the outcome of the advisory vote. Brunkow was not available for comment.

If Brunkow loses his seat to Overstreet, airport-boosters will have lost an ally on the dais, but if he wins the airport will be one short of a majority fighting to keep it open and growing.

The other battle is for the at-large council position, where Marsha Hawkins, an airport supporter, will not be running. Instead her husband Charlie Hawkins is vying for the position, opposed by Jason Burke.

Again, the candidates are on opposite sides of the airport question.
Charlie Hawkins would bring more ardent support for the airport expansion to the council. ”I think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We need to look at options, sure, but unless something really great turns up we have to take the federal government up on this.” The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would pick up the tab for 80 percent of the airport expansion. “We get awful shortsighted if we look instead at turning it into a truck stop spewing diesel fumes and truckers across from the high school 24 hours a day,” he added.

Hawkins’ opponent Jason Burke is not personally in favor of the airport, especially if the city needs to invest in it. However, he said his position as a candidate is that his own view shouldn’t matter and he wants to follow the lead of the advisory vote, which he feels will reflect public sentiment about having a Blaine airport. “Council works for the citizens of Blaine,” he said.

If Hawkins and Brunkow both get voter approval, the airport defenders will have their majority. If Burke and Overstreet win, the airport doubters will have a strong foothold.

The remaining three council seats are not held by airport opponents, but they aren’t supporters either. “I would describe myself as in the middle,” said Bonnie Onyon, who is running for re-election uncontested. “I can see issues of concern on both sides and neither direction will be easy.” Ken Ely said that while he likes airports and thinks the city is enriched by having one, when it comes to casting a vote on the prospective of another use for the land he “will go strictly by the numbers.” Ely is also waiting for a study of land-use alternatives. “We need to see both sides of the fence and make a business decision,” he said.

“It’s a swing vote,” Burke said of the position he’s running for, acknowledging this election could change the flavor and direction council takes on the airport and other issues. “Things can really change.”