Lynne Hermansen
Special to The Gardner News
Council members came to a consensus after hearing public comments at their Dec. 21 meeting to delay the minimum standards in the lease agreements by 90 days for the Gardner Municipal Airport.
The city takes over operational control on Jan. 1. The current leases will expire on Dec. 31.
Jerry Gippner, pilot, asked council members why they wanted a bigger airport when they already had a world class airport.
“Democracy only works because people want to do what’s right,” he said. “You’ve already bankrupted the airport funds and didn’t send any notices to any of the tenants. You’re using $3.4 million in taxpayer money to bring [the airport] up to their standards to annex the land. The airport board has been within budget and sustainable for the past 30 years, but you fired them and I don’t understand why.”
Cam Blazer, former airport board member, said he was concerned about what was driving the rush to take over the airport so soon, and no one let them know why there was a big rush.
“You have the best little airport in Kansas,” he said. “It’s very unique having 3 runways, and that’s what brings the people at Gardner to Gardner. If the airport is going to be taken over that quickly it can be done without turning it upside down and out.”
Blazer said what the city was building with their new plans was a bureaucracy that is unbelievable.
“Maybe you’re like the rich guy in the Bible who has too many barns and decides to tear them down to build bigger ones,” he said.
Roger Thomas, a pilot from Olathe who uses the airport, challenged the council to a meeting with the pilots.
“It would help us understand why you want some of the language left in the lease agreement,” he said. “If you do that you might understand where a lot of us are coming from, and this will all go away.”
Brian Faust, public works director, said the minimum standards stayed in the lease agreements and were a major sticking point.
Steve Shute, council president, said he had a real problem with it and wanted to suspend the application of minimum standards until they could get it worked out.
“I think the minimum standards were a big sticking point for everyone,” he said. “I don’t know if individuals with longer terms will stick around and renew their leases. Most of the aviators and pilots didn’t even get a chance to look it over.”
Faust said they had made a commitment at the board meeting.
Shute asked what the time table was because everyone is looking for certainty, especially pilots.
“We should make our judgements from the people who are out there flying and not a consultant,” he said. “The individuals impacted by the minimum standards will be at the airport flying planes, and they’re members of the community, too, and have a vested interest.”
Rich Melton, council member, said that they were protecting the citizens’ interest. Kristy Harrison, council member, added that most people and municipal airports have minimum standards.
Shute said he was concerned that the pilots were being asked to meet minimum standards before they sign a lease.
Minimum standards are intended to protect the level and quality of services offered to aircraft owners, pilots, and the public at large.
While they are not required, the FAA strongly recommends that airport sponsors establish reasonable minimum standards.
Mayor Chris Morrow said the minimum standards help give minimum risk to the city.
“We’re trying to minimize the risk by having these standards,” he said. “This has been on-going since the summertime.”
Ryan Denk, city attorney, said it lays the ground rules for different commercial operators that use the airport.
“We’re not trying to usurp their rights,” Morrow said. “Maybe we deserve the benefit of the doubt that we can get this done over time.”