The Port of Skagit is moving forward with the demolition of three airplane hangars that were damaged in a January storm, a move that will displace 15 tenants.
Meanwhile, the port is talking with private developers about building new hangars elsewhere at Skagit Regional Airport to give the tenants a new home.
But with the timing uncertain, some tenants worry about their future at the airport, and others have raised concerns about the affordability of the proposed hangars.
The demolition of hangars A, B and C is expected to begin within three months, according to an email sent Wednesday by port staff to hangar tenants.
The hangars will be demolished to allow Ross and Jeanette Widener of Widener & Associates, a wetland consulting business, to construct two large box hangars on the site. The new hangars will be used exclusively by the company’s aircraft.
Port commissioners approved a lease with the business on June 19.
Port Executive Director Patsy Martin said Thursday the port’s long-term vision for the airport, outlined in its master plan, is to use the larger runway, 11-29, for business use, and work with the private sector to develop hangars for recreational aviation on the smaller runway, 04-22.
Martin said two local developers are doing feasibility studies on developing new hangars along the small runway, but have no plans yet to build.
Tenant Don Goodman told the Skagit Valley Herald on Thursday that tenants support the port bringing in new business, as long as there’s a solution for recreational airplane owners.
“The dispute we have is over the timing of the demolition without any replacement hangars,” he said.
Goodman said the demolition of the three hangars will displace not only 15 tenants, but eliminate 34 affordable units, some of which he believes are repairable.
After the storm, the five hangars at the airport were declared by an engineer unsafe for occupancy because of structural damage.
After further evaluation, the port allowed at least some use of the hangars depending on the damage, ranging from full use, use only during daylight and normal wind conditions, and use only when escorted by port staff.
Port spokeswoman Linda Tyler said in an email that hangars A, B and C have exceeded their useful life, and hangars D and E, while in better shape, are reaching the end of their useful life.
Currently, there is no plan to demolish hangars D and E, but larger business-oriented hangars are planned for that area, she said.
The port is offering free outside tie-down space for a year to displaced tenants.
But John Echlin, a tenant of six years, said he won’t be able to store his airplane, which is constructed of fabric, outside.
“I was hoping they would put a business plan together for the (new) t-hangars and provide temporary shelter,” he said.
Meanwhile, high demand and shortage of space for general aviation aircraft in the region may make it difficult for tenants to find a new home.
Some have also raised concerns about the port’s construction standards for the replacement hangars, by requiring steel or reinforced concrete construction, and have stated that will drive up the rent of the new hangars.
“It seems like the port wants this boutique airport,” said tenant Bill Johnson.
Tenant Erik Golub said he has proposed building permanent fabric hangars at the airport, but the port has declined the offer.
“They’ve set a bar that is so high that the average person would never build to that standard, but that’s what they want,” he said.
The port’s Wednesday letter to tenants states that “the port is setting a reasonable construction standard — one that sets the bar high enough so the hangars will be commensurate with lease terms, while not passing along additional unnecessary costs to end user.”
Martin said if the port leases space to a business for 50 years, it expects the building to last 50 years.
“The experience we just had with hangars with the wind event did so much significant damage that we don’t want to have that happen again,” she said. “We want to have structures that are sustainable long term, and that are resilient.”
One of the developers looking into building new hangars is Mike Dyberg of Dyberg Aviation, a flight school at the airport. Dyberg said if the new hangars are built, he is targeting $550 in monthly rent, which is about $200 more than what tenants now pay.
“I think everybody is on the same page, including the port, wanting to get these done as soon as possible and economically as possible,” he said. “It means to do it as cheap as possible within structural standards and guidelines to make sure the buildings aren’t going to fall down in a windstorm.”
Goodman said if tenants can no longer afford rent, that will have an impact on the aviation community, which volunteers time and aircraft for programs that introduce kids to flying, and provide medical transport by airplane.
Martin said the port sees the airport’s future as a “diverse pilot community that includes recreational uses, flight training, business, flight services.”
“We do feel badly with the timing as it is,” she said. “We’re hopeful the t-hangars will get constructed quickly, and 15 pilots will have a new home at Skagit Regional Airport, and we’re offering free tie-down (space) to try to tide them over.”
The port will support the new hangars by providing stormwater, engineering and surveying help, according to the letter.