April 27, 2011 By: Keith Trout
Faced last Thursday with an agenda item seeking a look into options for the future of the Silver Springs Airport, the Lyon County Board of Commissioners instead voted 4-0 to direct staff not to explore any opportunities to sell the Silver Springs Airport whatsoever.
The motion approved by the board, offered by Commissioner Chuck Roberts, continued, “That prior to engaging in any discussion, an agenda item come back to the Board of Commissioners to address the policy issue of selling or maintaining the airport.”
Commission Vida Keller had requested the agenda item at the Commission’s April 21 meeting, asking for discussion and possible action to authorize staff to explore and research options for the future of the Lyon County Airport in Silver Springs.
However, Keller, to begin discussion last week, said, “I want to disclose the reason for this agenda item is a conversation between me and a client of mine, asking what could or could not be done (at the airport). With that being said, since I do have an interested client, I will get up now and let you guys handle it. I’m going to abstain from voting.”
Keller then went and sat in the audience.
County Manager Jeff Page said Keller had requested the agenda item, that an affirmative vote would direct staff to do research and a negative vote would “leave things alone.”
“From my perspective, I need direction on what the board wants to do,” Page said, adding that the District Attorney’s office and Comptroller Josh Foli had done some preliminary research on requirements of the FAA grants received for upgrades at the airport.
Page said his interpretation of the answer was, “It depends;” and he concluded, “If we move forward (towards possible sale or new lease), we’ll continue nailing those things down.”
The airport was originally built as an Air Force landing strip in the early 1940s, and eventually, the property was deeded over to the county for an airport. It has been leased to Hale and Kay Bennett of Silver Springs Airport, LLC, for over 20 years.
Commissioner Ray Fierro said, “I’m concerned any time the government gives something away”» there are strings attached.”
Later Kay Bennett, asked for her remarks, said, “I think we’re at an interesting juncture. The airport is now beautifully developed”» and strategically located.”
Bennett said it had “always been the vision and goal of Silver Springs Airport, LLC, to develop the airport for general aviation, aviation-related industry and general industry.”
She continued, though, “There is a well-capitalized entity that has the means and capability to bring it to the next level”». We are open to a conversation to find out what that means”». How does that works, what are the benefits, what are all the issues–and they are many and complex–out there.”
Bennett also added, “We would have preferred that this conversation take place in another forum. We would have preferred they had come to us first and not occurred this way.”
Roberts earlier had said, “I think we’re getting on a very dangerous slope here.
“We have a contract,” he said, praising the Bennetts for taking the landing strip “from a weed patch to what we have today.”
Roberts continued, “Certainly you could argue the airport is an asset the county would like to have”» (and) benefit from this asset continuing well into the future.”
He said Keller’s inquiry on a sale would be opening “a very complex can of worms that’s going to be very expensive to explore” and present legal problems, so he felt if that were to occur, then a funding source for that exploration should be identified.
Roberts said he felt if the county sold the airport, the board’s successors might look back and feel it was a mistake. He continued that this agenda item may have “damaged the lease holder already.”
Chairman Joe Mortensen said he’d spoken with four people, and they all were opposed to selling the airport. He added with impending completion of USA Parkway, the airport could have a huge value.
Mortensen also noted the county had only spent $10,000 on the airport, and “at this time, it’s not costing us anything”». on an ongoing basis, which is awfully good.”
Commissioner Virgil Arellano said the board needed to explore the long-term impact of any action at this time.
“We can’t overlook the responsibility we have to the citizens of Silver Springs and around that airport if we sell to another party without a development plan in place.”
“I have yet to hear what the majority of Silver Springs of citizens feel about the airport,” Arellano said.
Roberts said he felt “there are so many strings attached to this,” and he’d talked with Foli about how liabilities might remain with the county from the FAA grants, even if it sold the property.
Roberts said he felt proceeds from a sale “arguably would have to go back into the facility. Other than the cash infusion”». The county has no gain in this whatsoever.”
Source: RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL