Port of Kennewick hiring consultant to decide Vista Field fate - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Port of Kennewick hiring consultant to decide Vista Field fate

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KENNEWICK, Wash. -- In 2010, people voted to keep Kennewick's only airport, Vista Field open. But two years later, the Port of Kennewick is struggling to keep it running.

"We know there's two things to do with Vista Field. It can't stay the way it is, nobody wants that. So can we improve it? Can it be economically viable? And do the people want to pay for it," asks Port of Kennewick Commission President Skip Novakovich.

There are many questions as to what to do with the airport that Novakovich says costs the Port of Kennewick and taxpayers more than $200,000 a year to run. A figure, originally thought in the Master Plan to be around $50,000. So Port Commissioners are asking for a professional opinion. They've put in several RFQ's in a quest to find a consultant to do several studies on the area.

Wednesday, a citizens committee representing the cities of Richland, West Richland, Benton City, Benton County, a member at large and pilot will decide on a consulting firm to answer some basic questions; to keep the airport as is, shut it down or put in some investments.

Novakovich says even though similar studies have been done in the past, this one will address costs, and where the money will come from. This way when they put it up for a vote, tax payers will know if they want to pay for it.

The city of Kennewick opted to sit out of the committee, saying they just don't see their place in the project since handing the land over to the Port of Kennewick and rezoning it for them. They even spent $56,000 in July 2008 on a similar study.

"They requested some money to assist in the cost. They also requested that we put a city council member on the committee, and the city council met and decided it was not the proper thing for the City of Kennewick to do," says Kennewick City Mayor Steve Young.

The consultants the committee will hire will study three options for Vista Field. Novakovich says there's been many changes since the public voted to keep it open two years ago. "There's been a lot more financial information that's coming forth, that was not available then. There's a lot of questions involved with costs. Costs are all over the place and no one has been able to nail them down. But the biggest question is where's the funding going to come from," he said.

Novakovich says the master plan approved by voters depends on $20 million dollars of private investment, but it is money the Port Of Kennewick has not been able to get. Part of the problem is that unlike the airports in Richland and Pasco, Vista Field is not regulated by the FAA, and receives no federal funding. Novakovich also says it doesn't create any direct jobs like the master plan originally stated.

But instead of making a decision, Novakovich says this should be in the hands of voters. First the consultants will make their recommendations with financial impact numbers. The study costs 225,000. Then it will go out for an Advisory Vote to the Port of Kennewick District of 125,000 people. The Benton County Auditor, Brenda Chilton says putting it on a ballot can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $40,000, depending on timing and what other issues are on the ballot.

After the people vote, the Port of Kennewick Commissioners will vote. They'll consider the consultant as well as the public when making a decision.

"After all it is the public's investments. Vista field belongs to the public. So its only right that they make the decision on what the use of the airport should be and how much of their tax dollars they want to invest in vista field,"says Novakovich.

Wednesday night's meeting is open to the public. It starts at 6:30PM at the Kennewick School District main office, located on 1000 W. Fourth Ave.

For more information, here are the Frequently Asked Questions the Port of Kennewick posted on their site.

FAQ: http://portofkennewick.org/uploads/Vista_Field_FAQ_aug_31_2012.pdf

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