Airport:to vote or not to vote

Published on Thu, Apr 13, 2006 by MegOlson

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Airport: to vote or not to vote

By Meg Olson

Blaine city council members were unable to reach an agreement about how to decide the future of the city’s airport.

At an April 10 work session council members looked at how to evaluate the handful of reports and analyses that will be available to them by the end of the summer: a legal analysis putting a cost on closing the facility, a study possible alternative uses for the airport land, and the airport master plan itself, including an analysis of the economic and non-economic benefits of the facility.

“The electorate, if properly informed, will make a wise decision. That’s why I’d be willing to put it to a vote,” said Bruce Wolf, advocating putting the issue of closing the airport before voters again in the fall after public meetings to review the results of the studies now underway.

Mayor Mike Myers said he would support an advisory vote but not a binding plebiscite on the issue. “There are people on both sides who refuse to be educated,” he said.

City attorney Jon Sitkin has also told the city a petition-driven initiative to close the airport could only be advisory in nature because the issue is outside the scope of the initiative process.

However, city manager Gary Tomsic said he did not know how that would apply if council moved on its own to put the matter on the ballot. Council suggested and Tomsic agreed that question needed to be answered and that perhaps a second legal opinion on the matter should be sought.

Jason Overstreet said he didn’t see a lot of value in another advisory vote but “if the people have the right to say yes or no, that’s a different story.”

Ken Ely felt that council had an obligation to first determine if the city could afford to close before the airport. “We have a fiduciary responsibility,” he said. “If we don’t have an alternative that makes economic sense for the city, as a council member I would have a very hard time voting to close it.”

Dennis Hill, a leading proponent of closing the airport, and airport commission chairman Doug Fenton are not often in agreement but both urged council members to make the decision themselves based on careful analysis. “I would urge you to exercise your rights as a city council and make a good decision based on good information,” Fenton said.

“I think we’ve already done our voting,” said Hill. “If we’re paying someone $50,000 to look at alternative uses we should weigh them heavily.”

In regular session following the work session city council approved a $42,000 contract with MAKERS and BST Associates to undertake the land use analysis for the airport property.

The price for the study was higher than the budgeted amount but Tomsic said the city “will get a product far superior to what we’d envisioned.” Tomsic explained the consultants would not only look at how the land could be used if there was not an airport there, but would also look at how the airport could be part of economic development of the wider area. “We can’t just look at it as a 33-acre island,” Tomsic said.

The final product will present a number of scenarios based on criteria council, staff and the public have identified as important, Tomsic said. “It will tell you under these scenarios what can you expect in terms of jobs, revenue, and give you a decision tree.

The MAKERS/BST report is anticipated in 16 weeks and there will be four public meetings contributing to the final product.