Councilvotes 4-3 to keep airport, adopt master plan

Published on Thu, Oct 12, 2006 by ara Nelson

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Council votes 4-3 to keep airport, adopt master plan

By Tara Nelson

After nearly a year of debate, Blaine City Council narrowly voted to keep the Blaine Municipal Airport, halting plans to the 42 acres of prime industrial-zoned land on Blaine’s east side into a mix of retail and light industrial uses.

In a special meeting Monday, October 9 held at the Blaine Senior Center, council members listened to testimony from individuals on both sides one last time before voting 4-3 to keep operating the airport as a municipal function and approve the city’s Airport Master Plan, which calls for a $20 million expansion.

Art Lawrenson, who has owned and operated Motel International for more than 40 years, spoke in favor of the airport and cautioned council members to be wary of statistics.

“The problem that you people are dealing with is the most important decision that you make the entire time you’re on the city council,” he said. “I was quite surprised at some of the figures you were exposed to. But all they were was guess work. I don’t know if you got a crystal ball and can see into the future. Now is not the time to give away city-owned property. If you watch the Port of Bellingham, they do not give away property, they acquire property.”

Council members Bruce Wolf, Charlie Hawkins, Mike Myers and Ken Ely voted to keep the airport while Bonnie Onyon, John Liebert and Jason Overstreet voted against it, citing employment projections by the Alternative Land Use Committee, a group formed to study alternative uses for the land occupying the airport.

Liebert called the airport a “hobby airport” and warned council members the debate would persist as long as the airport continues to operate as a municipal function.

“If we continue to operate the airport as a city, it will come back again, but we will be in debt even more from the grants we have to apply for,” he said. “As long as that airport is in that location, the controversy will continue for years. History does repeat itself. And the next time we meet to discuss the closure of the airport, this room will not be big enough and we’ll have to meet in the PAC.”

Ely said the decision to vote yes was a difficult one considering the issue’s volatile nature in the community.

“My prevailing emotion is sadness because of the divisiveness of the question,” he said. “I hope that when I vote tonight it is the best thing for Blaine but only time will tell.”

The master plan, which was approved along with the 4-3 vote, calls for expanding the airport to accommodate twin-turbine or B-II type aircraft, in hopes to encourage business growth in that area.
The plan also calls for upgrading the airport to FAA standards by expanding the width of the runway and moving the entire runway south.
Blaine residents Billie Rowell and sister Dianna Borden, whose father George Jr. built the airport in 1943 and maintained its operations until 1955, said they were thankful of the council’s decision to keep their father’s legacy.

“We’re just celebrating right now,” said Rowell, adding she was pleased with the amount of thought the council members had put into the decision. “It was really apparent they wanted to make a decision they would be proud of in the future.”

Blaine realtor Dennis Hill, who spearheaded a 2005 citizen initiative originally aimed to close the airport, said he was upset by the decision but remained optimistic. “What happened is meant to be, but the party’s just begun,” Hill said, adding he would continue to fight the ruling through his group Revitalize Blaine Now.

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said the city will now send the plan to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and begin writing grant applications to fund the first phase of the plan.