Sound Off: Airport will thrive under public ownership


Almost a hundred years ago a young aviator farm boy flew across the Atlantic Ocean. It was a monumental moment in world history. Following that adventure in aviation, Charles Lindberg flew around our nation landing in farm fields adjacent towns and cities promoting the building of airports. As a result stagecoach and pony mail delivery changed. Not long after that Boeing was putting airplanes in the air to deliver people from city to city, the ones with airports. No surprise that mail delivery by air quickly turned to package delivery.

Since the time Henry Ford started making cheap cars, towns and counties were being pressured to make better roads. Eisenhower in the 1950s pushed for interstate highways that we all benefit from now to move us, our mail, in concert with airmail, and cargo.

Much of the success of our nation is built on the back of infrastructure that helps us move our things and ourselves. Almost all of those pieces of infrastructure work well when owned and managed by public entities.

I know of no major airport, road or ferry system not publicly owned. They exist because the public needs them to benefit the public, not private owners. Public airport, road and ferry owners have one primary goal, make our communities economically stronger.

Private ownership will always measure success by dollars earned where public ownership will always measure what public good was created. No publicly owned road, airport or ferry system is managed without the public weighing in on the measure of public good.

So here we are as a community faced with an opportunity to take control of a privately owned airport that has provided good service to our community for decades in the 60s through the 80s. Sure it has fallen into disrepair and isn’t what it was. Interestingly it continues to make money for the owner.

None of the transportation systems we have today have escaped the challenges posed by 9-11 and other attacks. The biggest challenge our airport has faced is the fight over ownership where two players living in Seattle spent loads of money on attorneys fighting over who owns it. When that fight settled out after years, the owner chose not to seek funds available only to airports because he didn’t want to commit that it would be an airport for 20 plus years. He needed the flexibility to sell the land for a different purpose. Many of us feared it would turn into the another housing development, and almost did.

I’ve been reading the letters to the editor over the last couple of weeks. People down in the Greenbank area don’t want the Port of Coupeville to invest their tax dollars in the airport. They don’t see a benefit to them. But they for sure want the Port to invest in the Greenbank Farm. I supported the acquisition of the Farm back in the day. I felt it was an important investment in our historical past and as an iconic place. It’s been really good for the Greenbank area. Being one of the folks “up north” I wasn’t surrounded by others up here thinking it was a grand idea at the time. Nevertheless, the port took it on.

Lately the port has turned its focus away from historic structures to its true purpose of economic development. They launched a high speed fiber project for the Coupeville region. I’m madder than “H” about that because where I live we are not in it. But you know I get over it real quick because I know someday that project will expand and we’ll be in it. I fully support them doing it. Furthermore I like that those people getting it need it and our community will be better as a result.

Then there is the forever grind of America wanting something for nothing. Everyone complains about taxes. I gladly pay my taxes and do it early. If you haven’t figured it out, folks, we live in one of the most spectacular places in the world and you don’t need to be a millionaire to be here.

I got to the island in 1982 so am a bit new. I’ve spent 40 years working to make it better. Twenty six of the years I spent building programs that focused on protecting our place and growing kids up to be valued citizens.

Some will say this airport thing I support is because I built and fly an airplane out of the airport. Of course that is true. I love my plane but the reality is that I will have plenty of use of the airport until I die no matter who owns the airport. But if you want our community to be better than it is now you will need to support the port and county taking it on. It is as important as a road to all of us here.

Don Meehan is a Coupeville resident and the former director of the WSU Extension in Island County.