Harvey Field studies criticized

SNOHOMISH — County Executive Aaron Reardon wants the county to stop spending money on studies that would help Harvey Field in the Snohomish River Valley grow.

“I don’t think that taxpayers should be responsible for the expansion of a private airport,” Reardon said Monday.

Owners of Harvey Field and other business owners have urged the county to ease development restrictions on properties in the valley. The process has already cost the county about $60,000, according to Reardon’s estimate.

Additional studies would cost at least $309,130 and take a few years to complete, according to county officials.

Those studies don’t deserve taxpayer money, Reardon wrote in a memo to the Snohomish County Council.

“It is our responsibility to the taxpayers of Snohomish County to be fiscally prudent,” Reardon wrote in the Sept. 13 memo.

Owners of the 148-acre private airport want to add new hangar space, a runway and other facilities to meet growing demand. The airport’s plan has been controversial in ­Snoho­mish. The airport and other nearby businesses are in the Snohomish River flood plain.

Kandace Harvey, the airport’s owner, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

The County Council has yet to decide on whether to continue to pursue changing the flood plain regulations in the valley. The council won’t likely decide on the issue until next year, as it is getting busy discussing the county’s 2008 budget, Councilman Dave Gossett said.

“I just don’t see how we are going to get to it by the end of this year,” Gossett said.

Before the council settles on the issue, it needs to hold a public hearing.

“There’s been a lot of interest from both sides” of the issue, he said.

Opponents believe that the proposed expansion of Harvey Field would develop land and, in turn, make flooding worse in the valley. They don’t want tax dollars being used to clear regulatory hurdles for the airport. They have formed a grass-roots group to fight the airport’s plan.

“We think it’s an obvious waste of money,” said Rick Reed, an opponent.

Supporters of the airport, including pilots, say that the airport, an essential public facility under state law, boosts the local economy and generates tax revenue.

“The airport needs to be improved in order to stay in business,” said Tim Porter, a pilot who lives in Redmond and keeps his airplane at Harvey Field.

The airport has drawn attention, but the issue of flood plain regulations affects other businesses as well, said George Swartz, who owns an electronic manufacturing shop in the valley. About 30 businesses exist in the valley across the Snohomish River from the city of Snoho­mish, he said.

The area has been zoned for industrial use for decades. Before a federal agency changed flood plain regulations in 2005, property owners had more leeway to expand their businesses, Swartz said.

He wants the county to persuade federal regulators to retain the original flood plain regulations, Swartz said.

“We are not asking for more,” he said. “We are asking to get back to where we were.”

He worries that current strict development limits on his land would lower his property value. Swartz, 62, was hoping that his property would finance his retirement. Unless the rules restricting development are changed, “Who can I sell it to?” he said.

The airport and flood plan issues also have Snohomish leaders debating what’s best for the city.

In April, four members of the City Council passed a resolution to urge the county to quit paying for studies that would let the airport grow. Three council members abstained from the vote partly because Harvey Field owners have yet to complete the airport’s blueprint.

In July, the Snohomish Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to ask the county to stay on course and clear regulatory hurdles for local businesses.

Reporter Yoshiaki Nohara: 425-339-3029 or ynohara@heraldnet.com.

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