Opinion

EDITORIAL: Public airport worth studying

A publicly owned airport near Oak Harbor makes a lot of economic sense.

The Oak Harbor airport once served as the base for Harbor Air, which many people depended upon for air service to Seattle and elsewhere. Since its demise, Kenmore Air has tried to fill in with occasional seaplane service, but regularly scheduled service at a traditional airport is much more desirable for the business and military community.

The airport itself has ownership questions, and the title on the property may not be clear. But that’s of little importance right now when the feasibility of public acquisition is in the early stages of study.

Taking a look at the situation is the newly formed Island County Joint Council of Governments, which includes representatives from the county, cities and port districts.

The airport on Monroe Landing Road isn’t ideally situated as far as governmental jurisdictions goes. It’s outside the boundaries of the Port of Coupeville, and outside Oak Harbor city limits. Island County therefore might be the most logical future owner of the facility, assuming financing can be arranged. Perhaps the county and city of Oak Harbor could find a way to team up in in acquiring the airport.

Public ownership would be a huge boost to the airport’s viability. Both the state and Federal Aviation Administration offer substantial financial assistance to public airstrips. One would assume that Oak Harbor with its relatively large population and total lack of a public airport would have success in finding outside dollars to make improvements.

A modern airstrip might result in the return of a commercial airline to service this area. In addition, it could serve as a business magnet. Business recruiters such as Island County Economic Development Council are at a huge disadvantage in trying to recruit businesses to an island that can’t even provide regular commercial air service.

Island County needs to diversify its Navy-dependent economy, especially at a time when all bases will be scrutinized during the Base Realignment and Closure process. We like to think Whidbey Island Naval Air Station is safe, but it all depends on how the military decides to realign its forces to save money and improve efficiency.

Island County now has a fund to promote economic development projects. Spending part of that money to study public acquisition of the Oak Harbor airport would be money well spent.

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