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Could the Port of Coupeville get an airport?

There’s a new face in the ongoing saga surrounding the airport located south of Oak Harbor — the Port of Coupeville.

Joel Eisenberg, one of the two people who say they own the airport, approached skeptical commissioners for the Port of Coupeville Wednesday, asking the port to conduct a feasibility study about buying and operating the air park located on Monroe Landing Road.

“Basically I never intended on owning an airport and I don’t know much about it,” Eisenberg said during Wednesday’s Port of Coupeville commissioner meeting. Since claiming ownership, however, he has named it after himself, “Eisenberg Airport.” It was previously known as Wes Lupien Airport or just Oak Harbor Airport.

Eisenberg said he wants a municipality to purchase the airstrip and then he would turn around and lease land on the property to build hangars and operate a fuel service.

Port commissioners had a lot of questions before they would make any decision for or against acquiring an airport.

Commissioner Marshall Bronson stated several concerns surrounding the property, most importantly exactly who owns the airport.

“I want a clear statement from Eisenberg stating he owns the airport,” Bronson said.

In an interview after the meeting, Eisenberg said he does own the airport, but an entity called Lonesome Polecat Ranch does have a lien on the property. The amount of the lien is currently being disputed in the courts.

Eisenberg said it could range between $150,000 and $800,000. If an amount of the lien isn’t agreed upon, then a judge could hear the case sometime next summer.

Bronson noted the port should also hold a meeting to gauge public sentiment over the port buying the airport. He said the Port of South Whidbey conducted a study about buying an airport, but discovered their wasn’t any public support. He added he wants to see how airports in Skagit County, Port Towsend and Arlington are operated to learn the issues of owning such a facility.

Commissioner Benye Weber said, given the port’s poor financial condition, it shouldn’t get involved with the airport. She didn’t even want a meeting to take place.

“As far as I’m concerned, we don’t have any business doing this at this time,” Weber said. She said a meeting would cost money and the port doesn’t have money to hire a consultant for a feasibility study or any matching money needed for a grant that would pay for such work.

She added that the port’s finances hadn’t improved in the past five years since Eisenberg approached the county’s Council of Governments with a similar proposal.

“We are not in any better shape financially. We’re in worse shape,” Weber said, adding the port’s first obligation is to rebuild its reserves. In October, the port had approximately $17,000 in reserves.

In the end, the commissioners voted to move forward with holding a public meeting to measure public opinion, with Bronson and Ann McDonald voting for the public meeting and Weber voting against it.

Despite the hurdles, Eisenberg was pleased with the results of the meeting.

“I thought it went off really well,” he said, arguing that the port could try to raise money through a levy election or even band together with neighboring towns and other public entities with an interest in an airport to raise the money needed to buy and operate the airport.

The airport’s location is just outside, but adjacent to, the port district’s boundaries. The port would have to annex the property to buy it.

The airport does need several upgrades to the property. Longtime manager Pete Morgan said the runway needs to be widened and a taxiway needs to be installed.

The port’s airport meeting will take place sometime in early 2010.

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