OSKALOOSA — A group of local farmers who will be affected by the proposed regional airport gathered for a press conference Wednesday afternoon to make their voice heard before the Nov. 5 Oskaloosa city election.
Seven farmers gathered in a machine shed on 220th Street to give their views on the regional airport at a press conference with local news media. Their farms lie within Site A — the primary location of study for the proposed airport project. The regional airport is a contentious issue in the Nov. 5 election.
“I maybe have to give up my home — it depends on what happens,” said Betty Barnard.
Florence Rempe said there are several century farms in the area.
Rempe said the project would take her century-farm land but leave her the century-farm house.
“It's our heritage,” she said. “They don't need to take good Iowa farmland.”
“We are a century farm too,” John De Rooi said. “I see no need for a regional airport.”
John Bandstra said his farm would be in the flight path of the airport. He also said the airport would close a section of 220th Street — one of the busiest farm roads.
Bert Bandstra said he is supporting his neighbors on the issue and agreed that the closure of 220th Street would aversely impact farmers in the area. It would “disrupt our neighborhood,” he said.
Eminent Domain has created a controversy with the airport project. Federal government regulations require that Eminent Domain be an option for land acquisition. The farmers said they are against the use of Eminent Domain to acquire land for the project.
Bert Bandstra said Eminent Domain would hamper negotiations on land prices and it would be “forceful — close to stealing.”
“I call it theft,” De Rooi said.
The farmers agreed that they are not against progress — they say a better process would be to expand the current Oskaloosa and Pella airports.
Homer Hasselman said the Oskaloosa airport has about 500 acres of farmland at that site that could be used to expand the runway. Besides, the current Oskaloosa airport has features such as a maintenance shop and cross-wind runway already on site. Jim Van Zomeren agreed that the current Oskaloosa airport could be expanded.
Barnard said she is not opposed to airports. In fact, she and her husband used to own an airplane. However, Barnard said the Pella's airport has room to expand in the city. Some houses there would have to be removed.
Rempe said area farmers gave up land for Highway 163 as it would benefit many people. However, the regional airport would benefit only “a tiny number of people.”
“We're not shutting them off from an airport. There are good roads to connect businesses to the Ottumwa or Newton airports.
The farmers believe they do not have a voice in the discussion about the airport project.
Bert Bandstra said the farmers feel frustrated because they don't have a voice in the matter and they couldn't let their thoughts be known in a public way.
De Rooi said there was not answers or feed back from local government officials about airport questions.
“That leaves a sour taste,” he said.
John Banstra said the situation would be easier to deal with if there was a farmer representative on the South Central Regional Airport Agency board.
Van Zomeren said that after speaking to several people about the issue, “education of people could have been better.”
Van Zomeren said that if federal government funding does not come through for one reason or another, the local taxpayers, both city and county, would have to foot the bills.