Airport’s future could be put to vote
The future of a new airport in Leavenworth County could all depend on 618 signatures and one determined resident.
Since the Leavenworth County Commissioners passed a charter resolution Dec. 3 allowing the county to establish an airport, Irene Tork has been working to bring the decision to build the airport to those who will foot the bill — the people of Leavenworth County.
“I’m doing this now to stop it before it goes any farther and we spend any more money,” Tork said about the airport.
So far the county, Tonganoxie, Lansing, Leavenworth, Basehor and the Leavenworth County Port Authority have spent around $100,000 on an a study by Coffman Associates that found an airport in the county could be feasible, Greg Kaaz, chairman of the Leavenworth County Air and Business Park Committee, said.
Despite her husband being a private pilot, Tork doesn’t see the need to spend the money on the airport when there are already close airports in Lawrence, Olathe and Fort Leavenworth.
For weeks she has been traveling the county collecting signatures from people both for and against the airport asking them to let the residents of the county vote on the issue. Of the 618 confirmed signatures she needs to challenge the charter resolution, Tork said she has collected about 300.
She hopes to get nearly 1,000 signatures by the March 8 deadline to make sure the petition is valid, but the recent weather has also slowed her down.
While several inches of snow have put the brakes on Tork’s effort, if successful, her effort could put the brakes on commissioner support for the airport.
According to Janet Klasinski, Leavenworth County clerk, an election would have to be called within 30 days after confirming the petition and the election held within 90 days if the commissioners wanted to put it to a vote.
Klasinski said somewhere around $30,000.
Commissioner J.C. Tellefson is a supporter of the airport idea, but is not in support of paying tens of thousands to hold a special election on the topic.
If enough people want to challenge the airport and want its future to be decided by a referendum, he is willing to repeal the charter resolution and wait to put the question on the next general election.
“If we wait around until November it doesn’t cost us anymore,” Tellefson said. “Then we’ll be able to vote on the whole thing.”
While he said he likes residents flexing their democratic muscle, he didn’t want a small percentage of the county to derail this plan, which he thinks could have a major positive economic impact in the county. If the resolution were properly challenged he would want the county residents to decide the airport’s fate. That’s OK with him and the Federal Aviation Administration, which is waiting on the outcome of the petition to move forward with the next phase of the plan, finding a suitable location for the airport.
The planned airport wouldn’t just be home to planes from local pilots, but it could also be the site for future business.
Steve Jack, executive director of the Leavenworth County Development Corporation, said that the county was severely lacking in access to major transportation hubs.
He said while the county has rail, it doesn’t have any stops and until the turnpike opened up about two weeks ago, the county had no direct access to a major interstate. He said a local airport could be enough incentive to bring interest to build business around the airport to help sustain the cost of running the airport.
“A lot of companies that we are working with need at least one if not multiple forms of getting their product out,” Jack said about the interstate, rail and airport access in the county. “Secondly, they need an airport not just to fly their executives out, but to fly their customers in to see a product.”
Jack said Sherman Airfield at Fort Leavenworth does not allow for a business park to be built around the airport and the increased security at the fort since Sept. 11, 2001, makes it more inconvenient for business use.
Fort leaders also reserve the right to completely close the airport from civilian use at anytime after 48 hours notice.
For more information on the petition, contact Tork at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (913) 724-1188.
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