Saturday, January 14, 2017

South Central Regional Airport project creates friction at Eggs & Issues

Mahaska County Supervisor Willie Van Weelden speaks as a guest member of the audience during Saturday's Eggs & Issues forum held at Smoky Row.

OSKALOOSA — The first Eggs & Issues forum of 2017 took a turn toward controversy Saturday morning as the subject of the proposed South Central Regional Airport project was passionately discussed by several local politicians.

Mahaska County Supervisor Mark Doland was one of three panel guests for the first edition of the traditional forum held at Smokey Row in Downtown Oskaloosa. Doland was Joined by Oskaloosa Mayor David Krutzfeldt and Oskaloosa Community School District Superintendent Russ Reiter, and all three guests tackled various issues and answered questions.

About halfway through the forum, Doland told the large crowd assembled in the spacious coffee house he was going to introduce a resolution at Tuesday's Mahaska County Board of Supervisors meeting seeking to remove the county from the 28E agreement officials with the county signed in 2012 with the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa, making the three entities parties to the new proposed airport north of Highway 163.

The proposed airport spans more than 580 acres of prime farmland north of Highway 163 and west of the city of Oskaloosa. The plan would lead to two Century Farms and an Historic Farm losing land for the proposed airport; as well as the possible closure of 220th Street, which many critics of the project say will hurt local agriculture producers.

"We have a new supervisor, Mark Groenendyk, who was with us for our first meeting. Mike Vander Molen is no longer with us, so that changes the composition of the board a little bit," Doland said. "On the agenda [Tuesday's meeting], the Board of Supervisors the will consider a resolution I put together to withdraw from the 28E agreement partnership to acquire and build an airport with the cities of Oskaloosa and Pella. It's probably not a surprise that that is my position. The agreement, in totality, I'm not in favor of, so I don't want to be a part of it. I'm going to bring that before the board and see what the board says about it."

Doland said it was obvious he is against the airport plan, and he told attendees that he is specifically against the eminent domain provisions in the 28E agreement and the closure of 220th Street that would happen if the airport is built.

Doland had distributed the proposal [see attached PDF document] intended to remove the county from the 28E agreement to several members of the media who were covering the forum. 

Fellow Mahaska County Supervisor Willie Van Weelden, who was present at the forum as a guest in the audience, spoke during the question and answer phase of the forum, telling attendees he felt the proposed resolution created by Doland was premature.

"In answer to Mr. Doland's couple of comments. One, he continues to harp that he doesn't get information about the airport. I've gotten all the information I need. All it takes is a phone call to get that information. I've always gotten that information," Van Weelden said. "As far as that resolution, when I left the courthouse Thursday afternoon [Jan. 12], I went and checked the agenda and it was on there but I have not received a copy [of the resolution] yet. I think this is a little premature to take this up [on Tuesday] when even the members of the board haven't received what's going to happen."

Doland responded to Van Weelden's comments, saying he has had a hard time acquiring information about the project from the South Central Regional Airport Agency board and the FAA, and in some cases he has received no information. 

"I think it's been well-documented that I don't get the information that I'm asking for me," Doland said. "As far as the resolution, I emailed it to you, Willie, and it's on your desk."

The comments from Doland led to a brief back and forth between Doland and Van Weelden, who had returned to his seat, about when or if the proposed resolution had been shared with Van Weelden in a proper manner.

"You did not email it before Thursday afternoon," Van Weelden responded.

Doland said a second time that he had emailed the proposed resolution, and left it on Van Weelden's desk. Doland then personally hand delivered a copy of the proposal to Van Weelden at his seat in the audience.

Oskaloosa City Council Member Tom Walling took to the microphone after the discussion between Doland and Van Weelden with several questions and comments about the airport controversy.

"We've done this already once, the county tried to vote it down. Pella and Oskaloosa voted for it again," Walling said. "I'd like to hear what your plan is—if you get it voted down—I'm not sure where you're going with that. Sometimes you think Mahaska County and Oskaloosa are the same, and other times, [you think] Oskaloosa is not a part of Mahaska County. And we are. We're one full county."

Walling said he felt the county as a whole is suffering due to this division between the city and county, especially in regard to the airport issue.

"We've got to get over it, or it's going to be a downfall for Oskaloosa and Mahaska County," Walling said. "This is for progress for Mahaska County. It's not a good thing, eminent domain. It's not a good thing to take farmer's land. But it's a good thing for the future. Do you have a plan if you vote it down?"

Doland said Mahaska County does not need to be a part of the airport plans, and the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa can move ahead with the project without the county.

"We don't need to be part of the plan. I don't feel like we're treated as partners. I believe the reason why they want us to be in the agreement is to make it look like we're supportive of it, and we're not. I'm not [supportive]; obviously Willie is," Doland replied. "The plan will move forward, whether the city and county and the city of Pella are all united in the efforts together or not. They can do it without us. The Iowa code allows for a jurisdiction—the city—to condemn land outside of the city limits for a just cause. The airport is listed in one of those things as a just cause. I don't know why we're still in the agreement. I don't know why we were in it to begin with."

The proposed resolution is on the official agenda for the Jan. 17 Mahaska County Board of Supervisors meeting, scheduled for 9 a.m., on the third floor inside the Mahaska County Courthouse.

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