EDITORIAL: Vista Field study good for community

June 26, 2007

Jun. 26--Emotions in the Tri-Cities run high when it comes to discussing the possibility of moving Vista Field Airport, which only makes it harder to reach the right decision.

But smart planning -- based on facts, not feelings -- is essential.

The Vista Field area is quickly becoming a hub for the Mid-Columbia -- home to the Toyota Center and its football and hockey franchises, the Three Rivers Convention Center, an array of lodging and an ever-expanding list of retailers.

That's why obtaining clear and unbiased information on the pros and cons of moving the airport is so important, and not just to aviators.

The Port of Kennewick's effort to take a fresh look at the issues is a much-needed step toward determining the long-term future of the airfield.

Port commissioners are showing real leadership in their willingness to take on a task that's sure to earn them enemies, regardless of the outcome.

The port already has sponsored a two-part study exploring the cost of relocating the field.

An initial look by JUB Engineering puts the cost at about $12 million. Now the firm is working on a more detailed study of moving costs.

But that's only a piece of the puzzle.

By itself, the study won't resolve the big question -- whether it makes sense to move Vista Field.

Interestingly enough, both sides of the argument are using "economics" as their weapon of choice.

Aviators say leaving Vista Field in its current location is a good economic move because of the businesses it attracts.

Ben Tuttle, owner of Tuttle Aviation, which runs the field's ground operations and a maintenance hangar, told the Herald, "The business is booming."

The airport offers business travelers quick access to the cities and companies they need to reach, Tuttle said, adding that it's all about location.

On the other hand, potential developers and landowners, including the city of Kennewick and Kennewick Irrigation District, claim the airstrip hinders economic growth because of the restrictions it places on potential development, including a limit on building heights.

Besides claiming similar economic benefits, both sides level similar charges, each accusing the other of trying to turn the tables unfairly.

In years gone by, a series of public meetings were held in a well-intentioned attempt to gauge the community's thoughts on moving the airport.

Not too surprisingly, the meetings attracted only aviators. Some supporters of moving the airport felt like the cards were stacked, but in all honesty people who fly planes naturally have the most interest in the future of the airport.

By the same token, current feeling among aviators is that if the city of Kennewick gets involved too heavily in the discussion, the "economic benefits" will mostly benefit the city.

In addition to the JUB study on moving costs, port commissioners are considering an economic study that would provide an objective measure of the relative costs and benefits of moving the airfield or leaving it alone.

As with many decisions, the fate of Vista Field isn't necessarily a choice between right and wrong, but a choice between good and better.

And what's better for one group may not be all that good for the other.

What's best for the Tri-Cities trumps the other interests. But deciding what's best without first determining the facts is risky.

Port of Kennewick commissioners need to be encouraged to pursue an economic study.

By taking on this largely thankless task, they'll be serving not only the port's constituents, but the rest of the Tri-Cities too.

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