“Congratulations! It’s an airport!” With these words Marjy Leggett, AOPA Airport Support Network volunteer for Vista Field Airport (S98) in Kennewick, Wash., let pilots know that their efforts to keep the airport open worked.
On Monday, March 8, commissioners for the Port of Kennewick, the airport sponsor, voted unanimously to keep the airport open. The airport is run by the port for the city of Kennewick under a long-term lease that expires in 2020. City officials had been exploring the idea of closing the airport and redeveloping the 92 acres that make up the airport property.
Several studies have been done to determine if an airport is the best use for the land. Vista Field Airport is one of three airports in the Tri-Cities area of eastern Washington, built by the Navy during World War II. Closing it would have necessitated moving aircraft operations to nearby Richland Airport (RLD) or Tri-Cities Airport (PSC) in Pasco. Today approximately 35 aircraft are based at Vista Field, which sports a 4,008-foot runway. Most of the traffic is itinerant.
For the better part of three years public opinion on the best use of the airport land has seesawed back and forth, according to Leggett. The effort got a boost in November when several airport-friendly candidates were elected to key positions in the city and county. Airport supporters say the influx of pro-airport candidates helped them educate the public about the role the airport plays in the community.
According to a report submitted to the commissioners, Vista Field could be worth up to $7.7 million if the airport is closed and the land readied for redevelopment. However, the report, prepared by Port Executive Director Tim Arntzen, also noted it could cost up to $9.17 million to close the airport and the port would have to pay approximately $500,000 to the owner of an aircraft hangar, and another $274,000 to the state to repay a state aviation grant for past airport improvements.
Ideas for the redeveloped land included a convention center and recreational facility. Opponents were quick to point out that jobs created by the redevelopment would likely be lower-paying service industry jobs, not family-wage jobs.
For more information: PortOfKennewick.org.