The future of the A.J. Eisenberg Airport in Oak Harbor is still up in the air.
Since the property went up for sale in August 2021, it has drawn the attention of public entities and private citizens alike, all with dreams of revitalizing the declining airport and turning it into an economic boon for the area. However, interested parties are still expressing heavy reservations.
At a recent Island County Board of Commissioners work session, commissioners said that no government entities have made a firm commitment to own and operate the airport, despite the county’s offer of financial assistance.
At the work session Nov. 2, County Administrator Michael Jones advised commissioners not to purchase the airport or even apply for grants to complete a feasibility study without a firm commitment from another entity to be the owner and operator of the airport.
County commissioners have repeatedly stated that they have no intention of owning or operating the airport, though they support revitalization efforts and are willing to make the county a financial partner. Commissioners previously discussed purchasing the airport and immediately transferring ownership to the Port of Coupeville, though according to Jones, the port has yet to make a firm commitment.
Port of Coupeville Executive Director Chris Michalopoulos said that the port is still exploring potential financial partners.
The city of Oak Harbor was also floated as a potential owner. City Administrator Blaine Oborn has previously asserted to the county that there is interest in the project at the city level, though Jones said the city has been likewise noncommittal up to this point.
“I think that somebody has to take some kind of leadership on this,” Commissioner Melanie Bacon said. “I’m sorry to say that I don’t see anyone except the county being willing to take leadership on this.”
Without a decided leader on the project, the county administrator advised against seeking grants from the Community Economic Revitalization Board or other potential funders for a feasibility study.
“If no one has the capacity, if no one has stepped up to the plate in that regard, I think it’s premature to do a feasibility study,” he said.
Commissioner Janet St. Clair said she didn’t think a funder would award a grant for a study without a lead entity even if the county were to apply.
Meanwhile, a private individual who has made an offer on the airport has another concern: contamination.
Robert DeLaurentis, a general aviation pilot and global peace activist who recently moved to Whidbey Island, made an offer on the airport earlier this month that he said was more than the current owners have ever been offered for the property. His offer came with a stipulation, however — that the owner, Evette Eisenberg, clean up contamination on the property and remove the underground fuel tanks that are responsible for some of the contamination.
At least three instances of contamination on the property have been filed with the state Department of Ecology. A department report issued earlier this year indicates that several types of contaminents, including petroleum products, were suspected or confirmed in the soil, groundwater and surface water at the airport.
Should DeLaurentis take ownership before the property is cleaned up, he could be held at least partially responsible under the department’s “cradle to grave” liability laws.
“Because I would have my foundation and me personally involved in this, I would need to make sure that the contamination is gone,” he said.
He said that he told Eisenberg he would be willing to pay for the removal of the problematic fuel tanks.
DeLaurentis said he plans to renovate the hangars, widen the runway and develop the other 40 acres on the property if he becomes the owner, but cleaning up contaminants needs to be the first step.