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Cleghorn's do-nothing approach doesn't serve our community

Sunnyside's Airport is an important key to economic development for this community. Luckily, for the city and surrounding areas, steps have been taken for years by people with vision to protect this "hidden jewel" in the rough.

Those are not my words, but the words of the Century West consultant that reported back to city council and the planning commission about what they learned researching and planning for the next 20 years of our municipal airport.

Mr. Cleghorn's remarks in his guest editorial in the Daily Sun News last Friday had many factual errors, even though he is entitled to his opinion. Mr. Cleghorn screams of special interest groups convincing a few members of council and the rest of the planning commission to follow them to protect the airport. At some point, where does Mr. Cleghorn realize that because people's decisions or ideas about the airport do not reflect his, that maybe he is the special interest group?

Having a vision for the future of the community does not make dedicated people a special interest group. The special interest groups that I can only suppose Mr. Cleghorn is talking about are Sunnyside Community Hospital and Air Lift Northwest, the Port of Sunnyside and Mr. Bill Flower. I call them business partners.

Regular users of the airport include Les Schwab and Wal-Mart in addition to several local or area businesses. I do listen to what our business partners have to say. If we want to point to successes in this community, the Hospital, the Port , Wal-mart, Les Schwab and Bill Flower are some of those examples of success. It takes action and vision for the future. The Port of Sunnyside has worked closely with the City of Sunnyside dating back many years with a shared interest in protecting Sunnyside Municipal Airport.

Mr. Cleghorn has sat through enough meetings to know that this airport can never and will never be an "airpark". FAA and TSA regulations prohibit this kind of facility at any General Aviation airport.

Mr. Cleghorn is right; this airport will probably never be a large commercial airport with passenger service. However, this airport has all the potential to become a hub for smaller corporate airplanes that are in constant competition for landings and take-offs at the Yakima and Tri-City airports. Our municipal airport has a real possibility to become a hub for those type pilots who want to fly in and out unencumbered by more restrictive regulations that go along with passenger service airports.

Medivac flights at Sunnyside occur on a regular basis and include both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. The current runway length available at Sunnyside Municipal Airport is cited as a significant constraint in accommodating fixed wing medivac flights. Medivac providers indicate that the runway length at Sunnyside Municipal Airport limits the number of flights the airport could potentially accommodate and requires other less efficient patient transport options from the Sunnyside area. Precious time is lost transporting these patients by ambulance to the Yakima or Tri-City airports.

It is recognized that the current runway length (3,422 feet) limits use of the runway by larger business-class aircraft, particularly on typical summer days. The potential of the airport to accommodate increased activity from business class appears reasonable based on Sunnyside's established agricultural base, medivac activity, growing industrial base and growth in tourism sectors, particularly the region's wine industry. Sunnyside' location between Yakima and the Tri-Cities provides good access throughout the lower Yakima Valley and the airport has the ability to expand and improve facilities to enable increased use by business class aircraft.

The do-nothing alternative is not a forward-looking approach. The primary result of this alternative would be the inability of the airport to adequately accommodate the predicted aviation demand and the associated demand-driven facility requirements. Future aviation activity would be constrained by the capacity, safety and operational limits of the existing airport facilities.

Land use compatibility is a critical factor in the successful operation of an airport within our community.

The planning commission as a whole saw the need to protect the airport while being mindful of the surrounding property owners. A lot of misinformation was put out by "special interest" groups in regard to the Airport Layout Plan intended to upset and confuse property owners in the vicinity.

I don't know where Mr. Cleghorn gets his information when he states that our current legal counsel told the city council that the airport plan is too restrictive or that it expands too far out from the airport or affects too many people. This is not true.

Mr. Cleghorn talks about the need for change. I believe we need change also. I believe we need to look forward to what Sunnyside could and will be in the future. We need to be prepared and poised for that change.

The do-nothing approach will not work for the future of our airport or community.

/s/ Sunnyside City Councilwoman Theresa Hancock

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