There was a full house at the Pella Community Center Thursday evening as the South Central Regional Airport Agency held an informational meeting.
The proposed joint Oskaloosa-Pella regional airport is a sensitive issue for many, especially landowners and farmers in the Leighton area.
The meeting was held to inform the public about the process and proposed site locations for a Category C airport. A PowerPoint presentation was given in the community center auditorium, and then Oskaloosa and Pella officials were on hand afterwards to answer questions, and representatives of Snyder & Associates were in another room to talk about site locations.
Oskaloosa City Manager Michael Schrock Jr. began the PowerPoint presentation by explaining the 28E agreement that formed the SCRAA.
“The 28E agreement is often the focal point of the discussion,” he said.
Schrock said Oskaloosa and Pella began to work jointly on transportation issues in 2010. In July 2012, Oskaloosa, Pella and Mahaska County approved 28E agreements to form the SCRAA.
“Each entity held a public hearing on the matter,” Schrock said.
Under the 28 E agreement, the financial obligations for one-time expenses is divided 50 percent for Oskaloosa and 50 percent for Pella. For operating expenses, the division is 60 percent Pella and 40 percent Oskaloosa. Mahaska County residents have no financial responsibility, Schrock said.
Pella City Administrator Mike Nardini explained the characteristics of a Category C airport, which the proposed regional airport will be.
A Category C airport has a 5,500-foot runway with room to expand up to 7,000 feet. The airport would have the ability to provide precision approach landings, which the current Pella airport is incapable of doing. A Category C aircraft using the facility has a 79 foot wingspan and a passenger capacity of six to 12 people, Nardini said.
Nardini said there are Federal Aviation Administration grants available to fund up to 90 percent of eligible costs. The local match is between 10 and 20 percent, he said.
The current Pella airport is a Category B II airport that does not meet the safety standards of Category C aircraft. It is a “constrained site” that is land-locked by roadways and is not feasible to upgrade, Nardini said.
The city officials argued that the regional airport would strengthen regional economic development.
“We want to be relevant to the state of Iowa,” Schrock said. Also, federal funds for Highway 63 improvements would be tied into regional airport development, he added.
Nardini said the regional airport is one of seven regional facilities listed on the FAA’s May 2012 report. Federal officials determined that the regional airport would be the 10th busiest facility in the state of Iowa, he added.
Site selection for the airport is currently underway. Schrock said site selection would conclude in June. Snyder & Associates staff identified nine sites and recommended three sites for the SCRAA board to approve. Then the FAA conducted an airspace review of the locations. Once approved, a primary and secondary site would be selected. The primary site would be sent to the FAA for an 18- to 24-month review.
“That’s when the board would talk to landowners about price,” Schrock said. The SCRAA board would follow federal procedures, and land condemnation/eminent domain would be “a last resort,” he said.
Where are the three proposed regional airport sites?
Jerry Searle of Snyder & Associates said that Site A is located near Highway 163 between Independence and Highland avenues. Site B is located south of Highway 163 and east of Eaton Avenue. Site C is located south of Highway 163 and is between Eaton and Cordova avenues.
Many in the audience had questions about the regional airport for the city officials and they crowded into Meeting Room 204 to ask them. The room was so filled with people, that at one point, Pella Fire Department officials limited the crowd to only 50 people in the room at one time. Thus, many people lined the hallway to wait their turn to speak.
Many people in the room had something to say about the regional airport.
Rob Hammann lives at 1526 Highway 163.
“Site B runs right next to our house,” he said.
Hammann said his concerns about the regional airport include whether it is needed.
The meeting “confirmed that it’s not needed,” he said. He also felt disappointed that there is “no representative for our side” in the process.
Hammann said he was discouraged with the meeting.
“It’s disappointing how they handled it,” he said. “They dodged questions that need to be addressed.”
“This meeting is a joke,” said Tom Jepsen, of Oskaloosa.
“I’m very discouraged and disgusted about this meeting held tonight,” said Jimmy Carter, of Oskaloosa. “People leave mad and confused. It didn’t accomplish anything.”
Mahaska County Supervisor Mike Vander Molen said that people want to hear if they get a vote on the airport.
Currently, there’s no structure in Iowa law for them to have a vote, and that frustrates people, Vander Molen said.
“People want to express their concerns and frustrations,” he said.
Vander Molen said the regional airport is a popular topic when constituents discuss county issues with him. He said he’s heard both pro and con opinions about the regional airport.
“Everybody wants to hear the rationale for the airport and how to pay for it,” he said. “The county is not on the hook for the capital fund or expenses.”