Brookings City Council will discuss at its Tuesday meeting three agreements involving the transfer and sale of the Brookings Airport from the county to the city, where the facility is located.
The county’s fiscal condition, brought about by years of cuts to timber revenue and firm opposition from voters to increase property taxes, has curtailed the county’s ability to expand the airport for economic development.
A pipe leak, presumed to be underneath the runway resulted in water being shut off to the airport years ago, precluding people from washing their planes or using restrooms.
And if basic maintenance had to be done — be it mowing the grass or replacing toilet paper — someone had to travel 26 miles from Gold Beach to do so.
City officials have long said they feel Brookings is in a better financial situation to develop the airport for light commercial activity. Some have noted that a FedEx facility now located in Harbor could have been built closer to the airport if the county could have helped out.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for the community to see some economic change at the airport,” City Manager Gary Milliman said Friday. “It’s been something I’ve been working on for almost a decade to move this along. We’ve had a lot of starts and stops, a lot of changes in people we were dealing with, and it’s finally come together. There is great potential there. The city is well-positioned to make things happen. It’s a tremendous relief to have it finally come to pass.”
For a long time, county commissioner boards didn’t want to sell the airport; many citizens said they felt it was out of a sense of pride in owning its sponsorship.
But the current council is amenable to the deal, and is trying to wrap up grants related to some work done there — of note was a much-needed fence to keep elk off the runway — before the sale can go through.
The sale price of $123,171 was determined, per Federal Aviation Administration rules, by averaging the last six years of capital improvements the county put into the facility.
“The agreement also provides that all funds remaining in the county airport revenue fund would be transferred to the city,” said Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman. “This amount is expected to be about $8,500.”
The airport generates some money, primarily in hangar rentals and other associated uses.
But city officials have been eager to enlarge upon that and say they have had companies call to express their interest.
Under the proposed agreement, the county would convey all property leases to the city, the city would assume the responsibility for grants with obligations attached, particularly maintenance. It also stipulates the the Oregon Department of Aviation has declined to exercise its option to resume ownership of the airport.
The realm of options
Milliman said there is demand already — and has been in the past — from business owners wanting to relocate to Brookings and have their company follow.
Most recently, he said, the owner of a sports-fishing manufacturing company currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area has expressed interest in relocating. And the city had an inquiry from a cyber currency “mining” business here.
“Others have come and gone,” Milliman said, adding that most have involved the production of small wood or metal products that require 5,000 to 15,000 square feet of space and plan to hire 10 to 20 employees.
There are a few things that must occur immediately, however.
“Right off the bat, we need to see some improvements to the maintenance of the facility,” Milliman said, noting that the leaking water pipe issue has to be resolved.
He said the city looks forward to working with the Brookings Flying Club as its members have been eager for a “responsive party” to make improvements there.
The city has also applied for grant money to create a plan for the 18 acres of industrial-zoned property adjacent to the airport.
“Topographically, it’s limited,” Milliman said, “but I think there’s some potential for light industrial development. We need a plan: how to build streets, and provide water and sewer laterals.”
Then there’s the tunnel at the northwest end airport the FAA has said would be required for the safety of non-airport-related traffic.
“That’s a good question,” Milliman said about its future. “The transportation system plan for the city called for building it as an alternative, to resolve this issue. We’re waiting for this transaction to occur.”
U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, the ranking member of the House Transportation Committee, is prepared to act on the city’s behalf to eliminate the tunnel, as traffic — notedly, logging trucks from South Coast Lumber that have historically used the road to access its private lands — have never had an issue with airplanes in the past.
“Sen. DeFazio has some significant influence on policy,” Milliman said. “And he’s visited the airport, he understands the issue. Each time he’s here, he’s said, ‘Are you ready yet? Staff is ready to help you with this issue.’ We’re looking forward to getting that resolved without spending $2 million to build a tunnel.”