The South Central Iowa Airport Agency held a public hearing to receive comment about a proposed regional airport in northern Mahaska County.
Those in favor and against the project spoke in the George Daily Auditorium at Oskaloosa High School. Among the 14 speakers, there were those who were pro-airport including Pella Mayor Jim Mueller and Oskaloosa Mayor David Krutzfeldt, who both said the combination of the two airports would improve efficiency in the region, and Mueller cited safety concerns with the current runway in Pella. Representatives from Pella Corporation and Musco Lighting also discussed the importance an improved airport has on the local economy, and how air travel benefits organizations like theirs.
Those opposed included a lawyer representing some of the families possibly impacted by eminent domain, who brought up concerns with the environmental assessment, the language included in a 28E agreement between Pella, Oskaloosa, and Mahaska County, and the potential of establishing an airport in Otley. Mahaska County Residents and Board of Supervisor Mark Doland also expressed their opposition, and Doland emphasized his desire to end the 28E agreement voted on in 2012. Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio was opposed to the project due to the site’s proximity to three regional airports, including the one located in his home city.
The next step is for an environmental assessment to be submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration, along with the oral and additional written comments. The FAA will decide whether or not the South Central Iowa Airport Agency can move forward with plans to construct a regional airport that replaces the Pella and Oskaloosa city airports.
Ottumwa Mayor Tom Lazio
OSKALOOSA — More than 100 people gathered in the George Daily Auditorium to learn more about the proposed South Central Regional Airport and to also provide comments for the Federal Aviation Administration’s environmental assessment of the project.
The proposed regional airport, which has been in the planning stages since 2012, would cover 582 acres in Mahaska County north of Highway 163. The project would include four large hangars, five box hangars, a terminal, two runways and multiple other support buildings.
The public hearing was held by the South Central Regional Airport Agency, the organization managing the project, and included time for members of the public and interested parties to speak for three minutes on the project.
The airport plan is being jointly managed via a 28E agreement between Pella, Oskaloosa and Mahaska County. If the plan goes as expected, airports in Oskaloosa and Pella would be closed.
Only 13 people signed up to make comments for the FAA review, including numerous people in favor of the airport plan and several others who said they were opposed to the plan.
One speaker against the project was Jack Rempe, who along with his wife Tami own a Century Farm that has been in their family since 1881. The couple grows corn and soybean on their land while renting out the historic farmhouse. Both said they are appalled at the prospect of losing their family farm and they do not see the need for the regional airport.
“You quietly have had a 28E agreement passed without the landowners even knowing this, you have tried many times to construct an airport with the public overwhelmingly letting you know they are against it. Yet you decide to take on the job to do the dirty work or corporations,” Jack Rempe said. “Did any of you say or think once, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this to these people?’ Right now farming of these acres employs hundreds. We already know you have a no-care attitude about the families that it will impact—Century Farms and a Heritage Farm that will be destroyed.”
Oskaloosa Mayor David Krutzfeldt addressed the hearing, and said the city is in full support of the airport project for a multitude of reasons.
“Closing two individual city airports for the benefit of sharing one is a win-win for the communities, in addition to helping the FAA in the sense that it would be supporting one less airport that would be safer and more efficient,” Krutzfeldt said. “I think we can agree that the economic sustainability of a region requires a blend of services available for both citizens and businesses, good highways and airports are part of that.”
Area resident Jimmy Carter said he also opposed the project, and said he was also frustrated by the three-minute time limit for comments, especially considering the project would have such an impact on the community.
“I’m just frustrated, I guess,” Carter said. “What I think is, this is a Pella problem, not an Oskaloosa problem. If Pella has a problem, I feel they need to step up to the plate and fix it. This is not an Oskaloosa or Mahaska County situation.”
Pella Mayor James Muller spoke in favor of the airport project, and said he has been involved in the discussions to upgrade or relocate the Pella airport for more than 10 years. Those options, he said, are not viable which is why there is a need for a regional airport.
“One of the primary responsibilities of an effective and responsible government is provide safe and efficient infrastructure for the benefit of our community,” Muller said. “A re-designed airport will provide the entire area with a safe, convenient and efficient municipal facility. A new regional airport will provide our local businesses with permanent, safe access to efficient air travel. It will also position this region as a forward-looking business friendly area that will allow our industries to compete with other companies for customers nationwide. It will provide a critical municipal service.”
Representatives from several area companies spoke at the public hearing, expressing those company’s support of airport project, including Musco Lighting and Pella Corporation.
Beth Danowsky, who identified herself as an employee of Musco Lighting, said the company supported the project because it would be beneficial to the firm’s employees and customers. And, she added, the company’s success would in turn be beneficial to the community because the firm employees local residents and the economy would be helped.
Myron Linn spoke as a representative of the Pella Corporation, which he said is fully favor of the proposed airport for numerous reasons, including safety issues at the current Pella airport as well as saving tax dollars by closing two other airports and having one airport.
“Pella Corporation considers the regional airport to be an essential tool for operating our business and manufacturing headquarters in rural Iowa,” Linn said. “It is essential to move forward with this plan. The Pella Corporation employs over 7,000 people nationwide, many of them who use the airport.”
Opponents of the project who spoke at the hearing decried what they feel as the improper taking of long-held family farms—including two Century Farms and one Heritage Farm—as well as hundreds of acres of prime farmland. Other objections included the closure of 220th Street and the potential for adjacent development such as a housing plan, a hotel or other commercial establishments.
The Rempe family, as well as five other area families directly impacted by the proposed project, have hired attorneys from the Dickey & Campbell Law Firm in Des Moines to represent them in opposition to the plan.
Attorney Gary Dickey Jr. addressed the hearing on behalf of the families, and said there are at least four major reasons why the project’s environmental assessment is deficient, including a lack of public transparency, no proof of the economic benefit of the airport, the under-valuation of prime farm land and the failure to examine the possible construction of the airport in Otley.
“These are Century Farms, with some of them with as much as 150 years in the same family,” Dickey said. “As the FAA knows, if this project doesn’t go forward, Pella will go proceed with its own airport in Otley.”