Lewis County officials have again signaled that they have no intention of transforming Toledo’s South Lewis County Airport into a major commercial airport, despite their letter of interest previously submitted to the Commercial Aviation Coordinating Committee (CACC) and the fact that the airport remains on CACC’s shortlist of six potential sites to relieve traffic from Sea-Tac Airport.
At a Wednesday meeting, Public Works Director Josh Metcalf gave an update to the county commissioners, saying the county “has done nothing on the project or to support the project other than provide data on the airport and also support the letter of interest.”
He noted that how the airport is situated — surrounded by county roads and housing developments — makes it a poor candidate for major expansion anyway.
County Commissioner Gary Stamper agreed, saying “there’s very little opportunity” for major growth.
“As far as it being a cargo freight area, or a commercial area, it’s not going to happen,” Stamper said. “We just don’t have the space.”
CACC Chairman David Fleckenstein also indicated earlier this year that the list of six sites is preliminary, saying work has been stunted by COVID-19 and that more locations need to be scoped out that “may be more appropriate for a major airport.”
Officials said the letter of support may help the airport get more funding in the future. According to Metcalf, the revenue for the county’s existing airports largely relies on donations and transfers from the county’s general fund, and only a few hangars at the South Lewis County Airport generate stable revenue. Funding to improve existing hangars or add new ones could bring in more revenue. Stamper noted that funding is also needed for improvements such as a new security fence, as residents can currently drive right onto the runway, potentially opening the county up to liability.
But some residents on Wednesday didn’t buy it. Members of the Citizens for Responsible Aviation in Toledo (CRAT) — formed last fall in response to the issue — attended the public meeting Wednesday to express concern that major development at the airport could have negative impacts on the area. CRAT advocates for a “self-sufficient airport” that operates within the facility’s current boundaries.
“People don’t live in the country to be living in an industrial area,” Traci Dutton said. “I understand the need for revenue … but selling us out is not the option that you should be taking.”
Dutton argued that despite what officials have said, it’s likely that the airport would be chosen as a spot for major expansion given its location between Portland and Seattle.
Joe Martin urged commissioners to get the airport off the list of six potential spots.
“The local people didn’t really have a role in being put in for consideration,” Martin said. “One concern I’ve had is as you get deeper into this administrative process, the longer you leave us on the list, the harder it is to back out of this.”
According to Metcalf, the CACC’s deadline to choose a location has been extended to 2024.
An area in South Thurston County had previously been under consideration, but that location has since been removed from consideration.