Leavenworth County Commissioners moves forward with airport study
By Elvyn J. Jones
The Leavenworth County Commission moved forward Monday with a study of a new general aviation airport in the county.
The commission voted 3-0 to have 2011 Commission Chairman J.C. Tellefson sign a request for Federal Aviation Administration grant funding of a site study of a possible new airport.
If the FAA approves the request as is expected, the agency will pay for 95 percent of the site study, which is not to exceed $150,000. The county will provide $4,300 of the required $7,500 local match with the remainder coming from county cities and economic development groups.
The county commission had previously approved funding for the study.
The commission's decision came one week after it invited Jeffrey Deitering, FAA planning engineer, to discuss airport planning. Commissioners soon learned, however, FAA officials wanted no part of such a meeting because they avoid involving themselves in political considerations of proposed airports.
In supporting the Monday's move, Tellefson said the study would provide answers voters needed to make an intelligent decision about purchasing land and building an airport.
In making that argument, Tellefson cited a site study performed for a possible airport in Ennis, Texas. That city was much like Leavenworth County in that it was about 30 miles from a metropolitan area (Dallas) and home of a NASCAR track.
The Ennis site study produced an scored evaluation of five sites and construction estimates for each, Tellefson said. The evaluation considered such things as land prices, displaced homes, the cost of bringing utilities to sites and the relocation of electrical lines or cell phone towers, he said.
The county could ask voters whether to proceed with consideration of the airport with the results of the site study, Tellefson said. A second referendum could be scheduled for a bond issue to purchase the 400 to 500 acres of land needed for an airport and its construction, he said.
Commissioner John Flower joined Tellefson in support of requesting FAA grant funding for a site study but differed with him on the need for two countywide votes. He noted the first vote Tellefson envisioned would be for an airport only and would not include the business park Greg Kaaz, chairman of the Leavenworth County Air and Business Park Committee, said was necessary to make the airport a successful economic development tool.
"I think when it goes to the vote of the people, there has to be a business park and airport," Kaaz said. "I wouldn't vote for an airport. The one way this thing makes sense is economic development."
Flower argued with the business park central to the airport's success, its benefit should be presented to voters before they make an up-or-down decision on the airport.
Flower also said it should be understood the county and its partners would have to pay for additional studies should it move forward with the airport. He said those would include the environmental impact study, a airport master plan and a feasibility study of the business park.
Tellefson had earlier said that should county residents vote to move forward after the first referendum, the county and its partners would have share in the costs of a environmental impact study and master plan for the airport, which he estimated would cost the county $10,000 with FAA grants.
The business park feasibility study would be more expensive and would not be eligible for an FAA grant, it was agreed.
In joining his fellow commissioners in formally making the grant request to the FAA for the site study, Commissioner Clyde Graeber signaled he supported Tellefson's two-vote scenario.
"The only reason I'm voting for it is we already committed funds," he said. "But I'm going to hold you (Tellefson) to your commitment when we get this information to get the vote of the people."
With the site study expected to take a year, the earliest such a referendum could be scheduled with a countywide election would be the April 2011 city and school district elections.
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