Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Leavenworth County Commission seeks more information on airports

Leavenworth, Kan. -   Though they maintained they were not looking to serve as the official sponsor, the Leavenworth County Commission Monday did vote to pursue additional information gathering related to a regional general aviation airport in Leavenworth County.

The motion essentially requested Greg Kaaz, chairman of the independent airport and business park committee, to inquire the consulting firm Coffman Associates about cost estimates to gather data on about 30 other small airports in the country.

The direction, according to Commission Chairman John Flower, follows the receipt of a cost estimate to develop a business case for an industrial or business park to be placed adjacent to the airport, should it be built.

Flower said he inquired about such a study with consulting firm Olsson Associates, who said it would lie out of their area of expertise. But they did suggest several other firms. Flower said he also contacted Garnet Consulting Services, the firm that had previously helped produce a study of industrial sites in Leavenworth and Tonganoxie. Garnett came back with a rough estimate of about $20,000 to perform the study.

Analysis of the business park component cannot be included in the four-phase study of the viability of the airport completed for the Federal Aviation Administration. But Flower said he felt it was still crucial to undertake such a study.

“I think it’s just a matter of getting the complete picture instead of just pieces of the picture,” he said.

If a business or industrial park is not enough to push the airport into the black, Flower said the communities now guiding the idea through the four-step FAA planning process will need to decide if the idea is worth pursuing any further.

Considering the cities of Lansing and Leavenworth still “agree to disagree” on the best site for the airport — between a location on Coffin Road in the northern portion of the county or off of East Gilman Road near Lansing — Lansing Mayor Ken Bernard asked how the business plan would work.

“Don’t you have to have a location before you can do a business study?” he asked.

Flower said his discussions included information on both sites.

Commissioner Clyde Graeber said that committing to the study would be still another step into the process.

“How far are we going, knowing that we, at least at the county level, are committed to a vote of the people?” he asked.

Mike Smith, administrator for Lansing, said that while his city and Leavenworth do disagree on the best site, they have come to some understanding in past discussions.

“We just feel like no matter which way it goes, it just seems like its on the runway, taking off way too fast,” introducing difficulties with getting information to his city council and the residents of his city, he said.

Leavenworth City Manager Scott Miller agreed. Both communities stated they would like to slow the process down, possibly hosting information sessions to hear from and educate the public on the airport project as of now.

“Here’s the problem I have with that — what are you going to tell them?” Flower asked.

He said there is not enough compelling evidence in the two studies completed so far to likely garner much support for the effort ahead of a vote. But if the county could determine that the airport with an adjacent business park could actually be beneficial from a financial standpoint, he said the public could be more amenable to the idea.

Miller suggested the county look at what’s already out there — information on airports of a similar size and function to that proposed for Leavenworth County, whether they are making enough money to at least break even and, if they are, how. County Administrator Pat Hurley said the Kansas Department of Transportation has some data on airports in the state. Kaaz said he would help in what way he could to fill in the pictures of the airport.

“I want to do what’s best for Leavenworth County,” he told the commission. “If this isn’t best for Leavenworth County, I don’t want to do it.”

The commission voted unanimously to ask Kaaz to work with Coffman Associates on gathering data on other airports and business parks throughout the country and get a cost estimate on the work to compile that data.


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