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Pilots push for public airport

Joel Eisenberg, standing at left, wants the Port of Coupeville to study the feasibility of acquiring the airport he owns near Oak Harbor.  - Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times
Joel Eisenberg, standing at left, wants the Port of Coupeville to study the feasibility of acquiring the airport he owns near Oak Harbor.
— image credit: Nathan Whalen/Whidbey News-Times

Well, at least one thing is certain: Airplane owners want the Port of Coupeville to get involved with the airport near Oak Harbor.

They want it badly enough that self-professed airport owner Joel Eisenberg said pilots are willing to pony up the dough to pay for the port’s share of a feasibility study examining whether the port should purchase the airport.

When asked about the credibility a feasibility study partially funded by people who would directly benefit from port ownership, Port of Coupeville Executive Director Jim Patton was skeptical.

“That sounds like a conflict of interest to me,” Patton said.

If the port commissioners approve the study, they would have to pay approximately $1,500 in matching money for the study that would cost approximately $30,000. The rest would be funded by a grant from the state Department of Transportation.

There appear to be more people who don’t want the port to even move forward with the study, much less acquire the facility. Many of those people attended a meeting Wednesday night at the Monroe Landing Road Fire Station located next door to the airport.

Victor Robart, who described himself as an airport consultant living near Penn Cove, was adamantly against the study.

He noted the airport is inside Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve and said its expansion isn’t compatible with the goals of the reserve. He opined that the cash-strapped port doesn’t have the money to consider acquiring the airport.

The airport is located outside the Port of Coupeville boundaries and the commissioners, Marshal Bronson, Benye Weber and Ann McDonald, would have to approve annexing the property in order to acquire it.

Ken Leaman seconded Robart’s sentiments. He said any airport expansion would lower property values of nearby homes and the port should focus its resources on the Coupeville Wharf, Greenbank Farm and agriculture.

“Putting in an airport would be against supporting the rural nature of Whidbey Island,” tossed in area resident Gary Fisher.

Dan Pullen said the airport could be a viable facility but questioned whether the Port of Coupeville should own it.

“I voted against being part of the Oak Harbor port and I don’t want to be part of a port,” Pullen said, referring to an election in which a proposal to create a port district in Oak Harbor failed miserably.

There are still lawsuits pending between Eisenberg and Brooke Barnes over the airport’s ownership.

“I believe we should keep it the status quo,” Barnes said during the meeting. He wants to be reimbursed on the taxes and legal fees and other costs he’s put into the airport.

Several pilots attended the meeting expressing support for the feasibility study.

Coupeville resident Mark Varljen said the study would help resolve the uncertainty surrounding the airport.

Eisenberg said that the port wouldn’t have to provide any money out of pocket and that it would qualify for federal dollars if it acquired the airport. He wants to sell the airport to the Port of Coupeville and then lease the property back and develop and expand the facility.

Island County Economic Development Council Director Sharon Hart said the EDC supports any effort to restore air service, which is a factor in attracting large employers. Kenmore Air tried flying customers between the airport and Seattle, but shut it down after a couple of years of trying to increase business.

The port commissioners didn’t make any decision about the feasibility. They are scheduled to discuss it and perhaps decide during their April 14 monthly meeting.

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