Oct. 14--Election Day in Kalispell is three weeks away.
A referendum on the city's general aviation airport is shaping up to be the dominating issue and seems to be growing more contentious with each passing day.
Referendum supporters are asking voters to repeal the City Council's decision to pursue an airport realignment and expansion through the federal Airport Improvement Program.
They argue the airport has been mismanaged and heavily subsidized by local taxpayers and that the situation will only get worse if the estimated $16.1 million project is pursued.
In their view, the project would not benefit anyone except a small minority of airport users. They also continue to question the amount of local taxpayer money that would have to be applied toward the project and if the city could ever get its hands on federal funding needed to pay for the rest.
Referendum opponents are asking voters to uphold the City Council's decision.
They argue the project is the best way to address long-running noise and safety complaints about the airport, develop the airport as a city asset and put the airport on solid financial footing through a federal aviation trust fund program created specifically to help improve and maintain airports.
Federal funding could pay for most of the project's cost, and reimbursement for nearly $3 million of past city expenditures for the airport could cover almost all of the rest, they argue.
After more than a decade of airport studies and planning, setbacks, debate, controversy and expenditures, both sides of the unresolved issue are as far apart as ever _ even as the issue barrels toward what's bound to be a milestone public vote.
What happens if the City Council's plan for the airport is repealed?
In addition to the perceived merits or drawbacks of the proposed project, people on both sides of the issue are also arguing about that.
At a recent candidate forum, unchallenged mayoral candidate Mark Johnson estimated that if the City Council's plan is rejected it will cost about $1.6 million locally to keep the city airport open and in adequate condition.
Johnson went on to question how Kalispell plans to come up with that kind of money to spend on its airport.
With no clear answer in place, Johnson said he's leaning toward voting in favor of the City Council's plan, even as he chided the council for its lack of leadership on the airport issue.
In a recent letter in the Daily Inter Lake, departing council member Bob Hafferman said the alternative to the federally funded realignment and expansion is spending an estimated $2 million from the Airport Tax Increment Financing District to rehabilitate the airport.
But other members of the Kalispell City Council have questioned if using the tax increment financing district to pay for routine maintenance such as a runway mill and overlay is an appropriate or even permissible use for the money.
Quiet Skies spokesman Scott Davis recently asked the City Council for clarification about those two cost estimates. He argues the airport can be maintained within its existing footprint as a small utility airport for much less.
"They're not telling the public the truth," Davis said about the statements. "Even some of you council members have said it will cost $2 million. Are you telling taxpayers a bogus cost figure? Do you know the figure? It's not $2 million. Not even close."
Hangar leases and the lease with fixed-base operator Red Eagle Aviation will require Kalispell to keep its airport open and adequately maintained for years to come. The only other option is to buy those leases out. That latter cost is estimated at $4.8 million today but will decline as the 20-year leases (with two five-year extension clauses) run their course. Most of the leases were entered back in 2005 and 2006.
Jeff Walla, of Stelling Engineers, estimates that at a bare minimum the airport's pavements will need to be resurfaced within four or five years. Walla estimates that will cost anywhere from $1 million to $1.4 million. And if pavements are going to last 15 to 20 years, they should be fog and crack sealed every five to seven years at an estimated cost of about $150,000.
Lee's Summit decides to go ahead with airport expansion, completing many major projects in five years, including a controversial lengthening of its main runway.
The Horry County Council sent a message to lawmakers saying it is still behind an estimated $200 million on the terminal project at Myrtle Beach International Airport.
The $105,000 study would look at how efficiently the airport balances property leases, an increasing amount of passengers, and a $200 million terminal project.
A new terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport will cost $228.8 million - nearly $29 million over budget, according to new contractor estimates.