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County ownership of Cape Blanco Airport is a bad idea

Why is Commissioner Rhodes actively pursuing county ownership of Cape Blanco Airport?

In recent weeks, we have been reading about county layoffs of long term employees and the elimination of the Economic Development Department under the guise of saving money.

Yet, at the same time, Commissioner Rhodes has been traveling up to Portland to actively seek county ownership of the Cape Blanco Airport, a World War II era, state-owned airport. This airport is also a Non-NPIAS, or  Non-National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems status airport. It means Cape Blanco Airport is not eligible for federal FAA funding, unlike Brookings Airport, which is a NPIAS airport and receives federal funding.

Looking at the January 27 meeting minutes from the Oregon Dept. of Aviation (ODA) website, the state agency responsible for Cape Blanco Airport, it states, the “Oregon Department of Aviation was recently approached by Curry County with an offer to permanently take over and operate Cape Blanco Airport.” The minutes then continue about its policies and the next steps for Curry County to pursue this.

However, earlier at the board of commissioner’s January 12 work session, the only public meeting to date about county ownership of Cape Blanco Airport, Commissioner Rhodes implied that the ODA made the first move, “where they had shown interest in the county assuming ownership of the airport.” He further states, “The only cost to the county would be to include the airport as one of our properties and have liability insurance on that.”

Is that really the only cost? The county-owned Brookings Airport has been bleeding red ink for the last few years. In fact, a $14,000 loan from the general fund was given to the Brookings Airport budget to cover its deficit balance this fiscal year. And that deficit is growing. As of March 31, the Brookings Airport fund expenditures exceed revenues by $25,486.53. This is an airport that is actively used and has federal FAA funding.

In 2007, the ODA did a cost estimate for repairs and improvements at Cape Blanco Airport and it totaled over $1.5 million at that time. Those repairs and improvements have not been done.

Furthermore, the former Board of Curry County Commissioners commissioned a January 2, 2008, Cape Blanco Airport Area Economic Development Feasibility Study. This study enumerated the many challenges of this airport and concluded that it was best to leave the airport as is, and to look at a marketing plan for the area with “Cape Blanco Airport as an Ecotourism and Art Tourism Portal.”

So why is Commissioner Rhodes spending county time and resources to pursue Cape Blanco Airport ownership?

There is no denying the importance of the Brookings Airport, and the need to maintain it for our local commerce and community needs. Yet, Cape Blanco, already a designated Emergency Plan Airport, offers no upside for county ownership, especially with Curry County’s dire financial condition.

It will quickly become a financial albatross for Curry County.

According to April 28 agenda on the ODA website, www.aviation.state.or.us/Aviation/agenda09.shtml, Commissioner Rhodes will be submitting Curry County’s application for county ownership to the State Aviation Board at that meeting.

Ask Commissioner Rhodes and the rest of the board of commissioners how much time and consideration have they given to the cost/benefits of such an acquisition in a county facing financial insolvency in two years? And when will they actually take a public vote on this pursuit?

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