Kalispell Council Should Heed Voters’ Wishes for City Airport

Will the council now override citizen votes?

Here we go again on the city airport with a new city manager, new consultants and some new faces on a divided city council. Same topic: since 1979 it has been known that a rehabilitation of the airport was necessary in order to maintain a self supporting, special interest facility. The city airport has existed since 1928.

About 1979 that council came up with a plan for rehabilitation and safety improvements. Councils since then wrestled with financing. Finally in the 1990s a plan was initiated to (1) sell city owned property used for ball parks, some on airport land and some nearby, which sales did generate over $2 million, (2) move the ball parks with about $1 million of the sale proceeds to leased property north of Kalispell now known as Kidsports and (3) use the remaining proceeds of about another $1 million to make the airport improvements. Also, a tax increment financing (TIF) district was formed for the purpose of helping finance a portion of South Kalispell that meshed with the airport rehabilitation.

In the late 1990s a NEW plan was developed to move the existing 3,600 foot runway southerly about 1,000 feet, build a B-1 category airport for smaller aircraft with a 3,700 foot runway, then later to expand the runway to 4,600 feet, which falls within the B-2 category and can use FAA 90 percent funding. An Environmental Assessment (EA) was made that stated the council would accept the FAA funding to build the new 3,700 foot runway, but “they may never build beyond that.” At the same time they would not close the door to future councils on future expansion. The council approved the EA about 2002 with that non-expansion caveat.

But planning was afoot within city government to actually override the EA and build an airport to the ultimate length. Mr Gates, representing FAA, during a visit to a council workshop, stated that FAA would only finance a B-2 facility, but not a B-1. Then a local citizen group alerted the city council of FAA regulations called “Assurances” that essentially took control of the airport out from the jurisdiction of the city regulation if FAA was used for financing. Noise, hours of operation and usages of other than small aircract were of main concern of which the city would have no jurisdiction.

By a 5-4 vote, the council decided to proceed with FAA financing for a B-2 facility. By a citizen initiative, sufficient signatures were collected and the issue went to the vote of the people who overturned the council vote thereby negating FAA financing.

So will the council now override citizen votes? A small B-1 airport cannot receive FAA financing.

My opinion is that the council should listen to the voters and follow the purpose of the land sales and the TIF district by rehabilitating the city airport in its present footprint. The existing small airport is, and can continue to be, an asset to the South Kalispell area.

Bob Hafferman
former Kalispell city councilor