County Rescinds Help for Main Growth at Toledo’s Airport

0
402

By Claudia Yaw / [email protected]

Many Toledo residents can breathe a sigh of relief this week after Lewis County officially asked the state not to consider the small town’s airport for major expansion.

The move comes after months of backlash from organized Toledo residents. In the state’s search for another Sea-Tac-sized airport in West Washington – and after the county officials filed a letter for consideration – Toledo’s airport ended up on a list of six potential locations.

And although state and county officials insisted that the airport’s size and location effectively put it out of the running, Commissioner Gary Stamper, whose Toledo district is a part of, continued to criticize criticism. Some residents called for the county to lift its support, citing fears that commercial aviation would ruin Toledo’s rural feel.

The county sent its letter this week to David Fleckenstein, chairman of the commercial aviation coordination commission – the group that led the search for a new major airport location under the state’s Department of Transportation.

“As the owner of SLC Airport, Lewis County is requesting that South Lewis County Airport be removed from the analysis to include airports that may offer significant commercial service,” write Commissioners Stamper, Sean Swope and Lindsey Pollock.

The commissioners cited the airport’s classification as “general aviation” and said its master plan did not include things like commercial aviation or cargo aviation.

The letter goes a step further – probably to allay locals’ fears – by stating, “Lewis County does not endorse the airport runway or take any steps to add either large commercial air services or air freight operations.”

After reading the letter at a meeting earlier this week, Stamper said that the message needs to be “clearly worded” to the public.

The letter also reflects what the commissioners have told residents in the past – that the county would like to continue to be considered by the state for funding for smaller projects at the airport, such as increasing hangar capacity.

“The strategy here is just to say that we only want to be considered for general aviation. So that would eliminate all cargo planes, 737s, ”Swope told The Chronicle. “This would give us the opportunity to free up more hangar space for people to park their aircraft there and then just reduce traffic in the area for smaller aircraft.”

Earlier this month, when the commissioners announced they would be drafting their letter, some members of Citizens for Responsible Aviation in Toledo – the group that has long been pushing against major expansion – rejoiced.

The message was “an answer to many prayers and emails,” wrote Joy Noble on the group’s Facebook page.

However, Swope also noted that voters in his district – which includes Centralia and much of North Lewis County – have expressed an interest in expanding the airport beyond general aviation.

“It’s a Catch-22, right? Because there are people in Toledo who are directly affected by it and who don’t want it. But those who are not directly affected see an opportunity for economic growth in the region. They see it as a good thing for Lewis County, ”said Swope. “And I totally understand both sides.”

He went on to say that minor expansions the county is now seeking could include things like tourist-drawn helicopter flights over Mount Rainier. Increased hangar capacity could attract companies by giving “CEOs or upper management who want to fly in and don’t necessarily live here” a place to park private or company planes.