OSKALOOSA — The Mahaska County Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 on Tuesday to approve a resolution removing the county from a 28E agreement with the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa that governs the proposed South Central Regional Airport project.
The decision to remove the county from the 28E agreement may mean nothing other than symbolism, though, because the county’s possible withdraw from the agreement would have to be approved by other signors of the agreement—the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa—which is unlikely to happen, said Jim Hansen, chair of the board of the South Central Regional Airport Agency, after the vote.
“I have not seen the resolution and I’m not the attorney for the [SCRAA] board, but [the removal vote] is disappointing to me,” Hansen said. “I doubt very much that the cities will act to allow your withdraw. I appreciate your concerns and we’re trying to meet your concerns.”
Hansen also informed the Board of Supervisors and attendees at the meeting that the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed that 220th Street would not be closed until a new bypass road around the proposed airport was built and opened, allowing local farmers an access road aside from using Highway 163.
“[The FAA] will allow an access road to be build around the property line [of the airport] from the two points of disconnection [of 220th Street] and they’ve also agreed that could be available for funding,” Hansen said. “We, the [SCRAA] board have not acted on that. I thought that was a positive result. You’re not going to disconnect that road until some such time as the two pre-requisites are met.”
The vote to remove the county from the 28E agreement came toward the end of the longest Board of Supervisors meeting since October, lasting more than 2 1/2 hours. During public comment at the end of the meeting, numerous county residents made statements against the airport project.
Local resident Tim Van Maanen addressed the board for nearly 10 minutes, expressing his frustration with the proposed airport project going back almost 10 years. Van Maanen said although he is against the airport project now, he would be in favor of it if there was a definitively proven need for it and it would benefit the county.
“I don’t want to go on and on and on,” Van Maanen said, describing his family’s history in the county and his connection to Mahaska County. “I am vested in this county, from start to finish. So, I want what’s best for this county. If we need this airport, I’m in, I’ve already told you I’m in. But no one has given a reason why it is needed. They will not take it to a vote because they’ve done that. The people don’t want it.”
The possible resolution had been discussed by opponents and supporters of the airport project since Nov. 22, when Supervisor Mark Doland told FAA officials at a public hearing that he was planning on introducing the resolution.
On Jan. 14, at the first Eggs & Issues forum of the year, Doland unveiled the resolution, handing it out to members of the press at the forum. That sparked a feisty back and forth exchange between Doland and fellow Supervisor Willie Van Weelden during the forum, held at Smokey Row.
On Tuesday, Doland did what he promised, introducing the resolution for a possible vote. Doland made a motion to vote on the resolution, which was seconded by new Supervisor Mark Groenendyk. The vote was 2-1 in favor of removing the county, with Van Weelden voting no.
“Personally, I don’t feel the need to continue with that agreement,” Doland said before the vote.
Van Weelden embarked on a lengthy statement about the project before the vote, saying many years ago, he was first against the project, and then he changed his opinion to be in favor of the project after hearing arguments about why it was good for the county.
“This old dog is getting tired of getting kicked around. And I’ve been kicked around on this issue,” Van Weelden said. “There are a lot of things that went into my voting for this.”
Van Weelden said the main reason he voted for the project is because there are fewer farmers in the county, which has resulted in the economy of the city suffering. The reality of progress, he added, is the manufacturing firms in Oskaloosa create jobs and income, and the airport would help many of those businesses continue to be successful, which benefits the county and its residents.
“We’ve got a decline in farmers. What makes a city go is not only farmers coming to town, but you have to have people with jobs that buy and trade in town,” he said. “Now, you have less farmer-consumers. What’s going to keep this town alive? Look what feeds off manufacturing, you’ve got kids in school, you have a hospital that’s growing. We have services here that are as good as anywhere. We’ve got companies that do business around the world. I think the jobs [growth and retention] factor in this, [it] outweighs the negatives that are going around. There’s a lot of misinformation that’s gone around. I will not vote for this thing [the removal resolution].”
Doland said the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa would have to OK the county leaving the 28E agreement, and told Joe Warrick, the county’s representative to the SCRAA board, after the vote that he would still be representing the county at future meetings of the SCRAA board.
After the meeting was finished, Van Weelden said although he was out-voted 2-1 on the resolution to leave the 28E agreement, he believes the move by Doland is merely symbolic in nature and will not affect the pact between the county and the cities of Pella and Oskaloosa.
“The perception and foresight to see [building an airport] was a good thing for the community [was good], I still think [the airport] a good thing,” Van Weelden said. “This will go to the [SCRAA] commission and they’ll vote on it. I assume they will vote no [to not accept Mahaska County’s withdraw].”
The SCRAA board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m., Jan. 31, at the Pella Public Safety Complex.
Story provided by Jeff Forward of the Oskaloosa Herald