The port isn’t out the picture for the Kelso airport yet, but commissioners don’t want to keep the status quo either.
Port of Longview commissioners this week confirmed their commitment to participating in the Southwest Washington Regional Airport; however, they want to set new limits on how the airport is funded and managed.
The airport is funded through an interlocal agreement with City of Kelso, Longview, Cowlitz County and Port of Longview.
In a 2-1 vote in February, commissioners voted to back out of the contract, giving nine months’ notice. Two of the commissioners said they didn’t like the existing contract and that they needed to focus on the port rather than an airfield. Since then, the port and airport board have been going back and forth trying to find a way for the port to stay involved in the airfield.
Losing the port’s backing would cost the airport about $76,000 in revenue, forcing it to delay maintenance, according to Steve Taylor, the interim airport manager and Kelso city manager.
The City of Kelso, which is now the primary agency managing the airfield, requested that the port rescind its termination of the agreement. The port declined that request this week and instead offered a new list of requirements that would need to be met before it signs on to support the airport again.
“I want to support the airport, but I also want to the port to have a voice,” Commissioner Doug Averett said.
Under the terms proposed by the port, the new agreement would set a $65,000 cap on each agency’s contribution. The money would have to be approved by at least three of the four agencies.
Yet this past year, the airport found that it needed additional maintenance money and approached each of the agencies for additional $11,000 each. Commissioner Bob Bagaason wants to set limits on those extra expenses by requiring that those special requests be approved unanimously by all the agencies.
“Are you willing to allow another entity to come in and boost (the) budget in the middle of the year? … How do you justify that when we’re supposed to follow a budget?” Bagaason said at a port workshop Tuesday.
Commissioner Jeff Wilson thought the port would overreach its authority to require a unanimous vote. Wilson and Commissioner Doug Averett approved of the proposed terms Wednesday, but Bagaason voted against them because those limits on extra requests were not included.
However, all three port commissioners did agree on a few key points: That a new interlocal agreement should be shortened from five years to two and not automatically renewed; that an unelected at-large position on the airport board be eliminated; and that the airport must complete a strategic plan in 2017.
It will be up to the other three government agencies to respond to the port’s proposal. The existing interlocal agreement doesn’t expire until February. In the mean time, City of Kelso has hired Christopher Paolini of Long Beach, California, to start as the new airport manager in October.