IS CLOSURE A DONE DEAL?

Re: Bowerman Field on endangered airports list: Washington’s Port of Grays Harbor wants out of the airport game, in the Dec. 1 issue: I’ve been a user of Bowerman Field since 1978. When I started using KHQM it was a very well maintained field with a full service FBO, several rental aircraft, flight instruction, AP/IA on duty, and a cafe. When there were maintenance issues they were readily and properly cared for by the Port Authority. An ILS was added in the early 1980s and a new larger hangar to accommodate twin aircraft shortly after that.

Along comes Nucor Steel trying to look like it is searching for a new home. In actuality it is looking to generate fear in a southern Oregon town that it may locate in Grays Harbor in the hopes that the Oregon town will give the company a better deal on a land disposal there. KHQM was declared surplus in hopes that the air field could be disposed of and the land used to house the steel plant — not likely with a bird sanctuary next door. The Port of Grays Harbor spent an untold amount of money looking into what had to be done to relocate the airport when it found out it could not just close it.

From that time on things started to go down hill. The Port of Grays Harbor gave up attempting to maintain the facilities. The airport master plan is 12 years old and nothing on that plan has been done since it was drawn up. Almost every budget provision made for maintenance on KHQM has been “deferred” since that time.

Gary Nelson states they are not closing the airport, but the word we are getting from the port employees we have spoken to is the closure is a done deal and paperwork with the shipping company is almost signed to use this land as a shipping port.

We recently received word that Gary Nelson has been busy lobbying Congressman Norm Dicks and Senator Patty Murray to get legislation passed to override the FAA decision not to close the airport. Norm Dicks says he will follow through with the legislation for closure.

So, even if you are not admitting to a plan to close while talking to the public, if you are asking to be released from the restrictions of the contract of the Surplus Land Acquisition Act of 1944, then what are you actually planning to do? The Port of Grays Harbor got a fire sale price on a piece of land to the east of the airport when the former owner ceased operations as a log shipping and storage lot. Now The Port of Grays Harbor is trying to figure out a way to bail itself out of a purchase that has height restrictions that make it unusable for many types of business it wants to attract. The property is not large enough to support a shipping terminal of any size by itself and height restrictions will prevent the use of the cranes needed to unload the ships. Solution: Get rid of the airport. The city of Hoquiam has agreed to move the city’s waste treatment plant, which is directly on the east end of the field, to accommodate this end.

Your report stated that the Port Commissioners directed Gary Nelson to draft the request. In fact he requested the commission pass a resolution to let him request the release.

The talk of utilizing other airports to take over the traffic of KHQM is a plan provided by people who have no idea of what they are talking about. Ocean Shores is a municipal airport laid out almost 90° to the prevailing winds and about a 20 to 25 minute drive west of KHQM. It has no taxiways and the property is not wide enough to accommodate a wider runway and taxiways. It is adjacent to protected wet land, and is covered by fog far more often than KHQM. The land available, if it can be developed, is not long enough to make this a jet capable airport. Likewise with Westport, some 30 minutes driving time southwest of KHQM. There is not the physical room to enlarge either of these to accommodate the larger twins or jets. Elma, on the other hand, is a private airport, not a municipal airport, some 30 minutes driving time east of KHQM, and again wetlands, fog and available space are limiting factors. The private airport mentioned in your article is Hogans Corner and is currently closed. It is short, at the end of a residential district and has a deep dip in the center. It is aligned with prevailing winds but again is in the Ocean Shores area and covered with fog more than KHQM and has no overrun for west-bound aircraft. Its west end is about 100 to 150 yards from the front door of a private home.

KHQM is used as a refueling stop for the U.S. Coast Guard when on SAR missions, allowing greater range and loiter time on northerly SAR operations. Army helicopters also fuel up when on training operations in the Olympic MOA, allowing more training and less travel time to refuel. Airlines and the U.S. Air Force use the ILS for practice approaches, as do private flight training operations from around the north west.

We have requested, but so far have not received, a detailed budget or expenditure report for the airport operations. We feel we are being stonewalled on this request so we cannot verify the claimed cost of the airport operations. A news report in the local paper quoted the port as indicating all the buildings should be removed and replaced, quoting an exorbitant cost factor. This distorts the true nature of needed facility maintenance and tries to sway the public in favor of deleting the airport. Only a couple of buildings need any extensive repairs, but none of it warrants demolition or replacement.

Fencing is almost nonexistent at KHQM. A pole gate down the access road to the hangars is locked and is controlled by an electric card opener. Three gates are chained shut but three pedestrian gates remain unlocked to the ramp area. Trespassers are accessing the airport around the few existing fences and running their dogs, riding their bicycles, or chasing after the elusive bird sitting on the active runway and taxiway. In the last 19 months two burglaries have taken place where several hangars were broken into, property stolen and aircraft damaged. The Port of Grays Harbor has taken no steps to tighten security, add fences, provide security lighting, or have Port Security conduct regular patrols of the area.

Several runway threshold light lenses were stolen or damaged a while back. Half belonged to the FAA and were part of the ILS, the rest belonged to The Port of Grays Harbor and were the runway end and edge lighting. The FAA had its lights replaced in about three days, it took three months and many calls to get the port’s replaced. We are not sure if this is the result of negligence, ignorance, incompetence or a planned program of ongoing scheduled deterioration to be ended with the justification for removal, or all the above.

We expect the next move by The Port of Grays Harbor is an appeal through Congressman Norm Dicks requesting a congressional override to the FAA decision denying the closure request — and it is a closure request, not just a release from the covenants of its contracts.

MARC AVERY

Hoquiam, Wash.

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