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'Through The Fence' Case Could Affect Orcas Island, WA Taxpayers

FAA Says Airport Must Be Fenced, Or Risk Losing Capital Improvement Funds

An ongoing dispute between the FAA and Orcas Island, Washington may mean either pilots will lose "through the fence" access to the airport, or the community might have to raise taxes for airport improvements.

The FAA wants Orcas Island to fence off the airport, which means pilots living nearby who currently keep their airplanes at home would lose their special access permits to the field. 26 landownders currently avoid hangar or tiedown fees by keeping their airplanes on their private property adjacent to the airport. The easements to the airfield were granted by the original owner when he deeded the land to the Port of Orcas in 1959.

According to The Island Sounder, the Orcas Island Commissioners believe the FAA wants them to take the easement by eminent domain, and no new easements would be granted. They could also acquire the land by buying it as it becomes available, and re-selling it without the easements. Because of federal regulations governing airports, the FAA says it will require the commission to return federal money granted for airport improvements if the easements are not terminated. The commissioners say if they try to make those improvements without the federal dollars, it will be required to raise taxes on the entire community.

Property owner and former America Airlines pilot Bob Waunch, one of those with an easement, told the paper the airport is critical to the community. “Everyone on this island needs this airport. Package delivery here is a major thing, all the contractors get their supplies through the airport and the then there is the medical use. If the port and not the FAA were controlling things they could put non aviation businesses on the land and raise additional funds.”

FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt was asked about "through the fence" problems at his "Meet the Administrator" session last week at EAA AirVenture 2009. Babbitt said he was aware of the problems, and while we was not prepared to give a definitive answer, he promised to take a look at the issue.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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