Wednesday, October 5, 2005
FAA blasts airport sale idea Niver says agency influencing vote by ‘intimidation’
By Gordon Weeks
The Anacortes (WA) American
The Federal Aviation Administration has adamantly opposed the closure of the Anacortes Airport in a recent letter to the Port of Anacortes. In a Sept. 27 letter to Port Executive Director Dan Stahl, J. Wade Bryant, manager of the Seattle Airports District office of the FAA, writes that the possibility of closing the airport “is not consistent with the efforts by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Port of Anacortes and others to maintain the airport as a viable aviation facility.”
The FAA is stating its stance because “we want you to know our position before you spend effort and money on pursuing closure,” Bryant writes.
The Port of Anacortes Commission two weeks ago voted to place an advisory vote on the February ballot asking if the Port should consider selling the Anacortes Airport for residential development. The results of the advisory vote do not commit the Port to sell the 130-acre site.
The ballot measure was passed five days after the Port rejected a $12 million offer for the airport by Seattle development company Parkside Development Inc., which hoped to build 300 to 400houses on the site.
In his letter, Bryant writes, “The Anacortes Airport is a publicly owned commercial service National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems airport; therefore it serves an important role in the national aviation system. The FAA adamantly opposes the closure of any NPIAS airport that has continuing obligations to the federal government.
“In my 35 years of dealing with airports, my office has evaluated numerous proposals, but we have never permitted the closure of an obligated airport until an equal or better replacement airport was built and opened by the sponsor. The position at the national level is the same. The FAA has not permitted the closure of an airport comparable to the Anacortes Airport.
“Unless FAA determines closing of an airport to be in the best interest of aviation, we will take whatever action we deem appropriate to prevent closure of an obligated airport. In fact, the FAA has taken legal action to force a few sponsors to maintain their airport and continue meeting their federal obligations.”
The FAA “worked hard with all parties the past several months and believe we have made a lot of progress dealing with the airport and airport neighbor issues,” Bryant writes. “We encourage the governing body of the Port of Anacortes to continue building on this progress instead of considering proposals for closure of the airport.”
The airport drew support recently from the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce.
In an official position statement, the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors states the organization wants to see the airport remain open.
“The Anacortes Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors unanimously supports the continued operation of the Anacortes Airport,” wrote Chamber Executive Director Michael Broome. “It is an essential public facility and business transportation resource for our Island community.”
Commissioner Ray Niver, who initiated the discussions on the advisory vote, said the FAA may be acting illegally by advocating a position on a local matter.
“We haven’t even determined the final language on the advisory vote, but I believe we have every legal right to put the vote on the ballot,” Niver said. In its letter, “the FAA is influencing the vote by intimidation,” he said.
“My job is to represent the public, and I can’t do that if I don’t know what they want,” said Niver.
Brian Wetcher, one of three three commissioners who supports the advisory vote, said the FAA letter is a sober, bureaucratic reaction to phone calls from Anacortes Airport supporters.
“I believe it was the response to people calling the FAA and letting them know they wanted a response,” he said.
Sometimes, administrative agencies take a position contrary to community feeling, said Wetcher.
“The FAA does not approve or disapprove of anything,” he said. “They say,`We will pay for this, or we won’t pay for this.”
Wetcher said he’s received a dozen letters and about 30 phone calls from people supporting the advisory vote.
“Someone out there wants this to happen,” he said.
But Commissioner Bill Short, who along with Steve Hopley opposed the advisory vote, said, “I felt the FAA was right on target. If the FAA doesn’t take on not closing airports, we would probably not have any airports in the country.”
The airport is a “very vital part of infrastructure” that provides an aviation feeder to and from the island, allows small businesses transportation to and from the San Juan islands, and offers more emergency services in case of an earthquake, tidal surge or the oil refineries being destroyed by enemies, he said.
But Short said he doesn’t believe the FAA stance will affect the commission’s push forward on an advisory vote.
“A couple commissioners tried to sabotage the operations and developments of the airport,” he said. “If they create expenses, they can be charged to the airport, which allows them to point out the airport is losing money, `Let’s close it.”
The Port will discuss funding voter literature for the February ballot at its next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 11.