Vista Field on port agenda

City leaders push for development, which would lead to closure – by Pratik Joshi

Closing Vista Field airport could choke the Port of Kennewick financially and take resources from other projects such as the redevelopment of Clover Island, the port’s top executive said. Closure costs would run into millions of dollars and expose the port to potential litigation, said Tim Arntzen, who’ll present his view to the port commissioners as part of the ongoing discussions on the contentious issue.

Kennewick city leaders recently said that Vista Field development is one of their top priorities, implicitly assuming that closure of the small airport is the best option for the port, Arntzen said.

City officials believe the airport property could be prime commercial property if it was developed. But Arntzen said he wants the port commission to understand the risks associated with each of the two options–before making a decision, particularly during the current recession. He said his comments are “a note of caution”.

The port can’t afford to pay for closure costs, which would include environmental remediation charges and potential legal fees, he said. Also, Arntzen said, development of Vista Field would negatively impact the port’s development projects in Kennewick’s Southridge area, which is now being developed.

Developers believe the Tri-Cities would have a glut of commercial real estate is Vista Field is closed, Arntzen said. And potential closure would eliminate about 300 medium to high-wage aviation-related jobs from the community, he said.

Arntzen said plans to expand the airport also could divert time and resources from other projects, unless there’s a proposal backed by private capital in which a developer assumes risks associated with development. “That proposal would be worth a look,” he said.

The port’s plans for limited expansion of the airport have been affected by the closure discussions, Arntzen said. And he said the port has spent thousands of dollars on studies to understand and fairly deal with the issue.

Most recently, the port hired the Seattle-based firm for Foster-Pepper for a legal review of the port’s option on Vista Field. The report said any action regarding the airport would require an environmental review, and that both the port and city would need to amend their comprehensive plans to close the airport. It also said the city couldn’t unilaterally make the decision.

The best option after assessing risks may be to keep the field open through 2020 as stated in the port’s original contract with the city, Arntzen said.

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