So, What’s All this Controversy Going on at the Airport?

posted in: General News | 5

As discussed in the November 19th board meeting, it was decided that the airport needs more PR to compete with the view that adding more residential properties to the tax base of cities is of greater benefit.

Following Greg Delavan’s presentation at that meeting, a motion was passed to produce an airport fact sheet to members to aid in writing letters of support for the airport.

Jerry Rose volunteered to take this on and this is his position paper.


So, What’s All this Controversy Going on at the Airport?

The thoughts of the Coeur d’Alene Airport Association

I’m writing this on behalf of the 114 men and women of the Coeur d’Alene Airport Association of which I am a member.  I’d like to call this essay a position paper as it reflects, I hope, the feelings of our entire membership.

Issues concerning the airport have been significant topics in the press, as well as in the pilot community at large lately.  As you read this, the many topics will gel and perhaps help lead to a better understanding.

I’m a pilot of 42 years and own a hangar at the airport.  For the last 17 years, I’ve been a volunteer member of the Coeur d’Alene Airport Advisory Board (“the Board.”) All members were vetted and appointed by the Board of County Commissioners. This Board is a ten-member panel which can be likened to Airport Commissions found in some larger cities. Our Board meets once a month, sometimes more often, if necessary. Our main function is to be the eyes and ears for the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) concerning matters at the airport. We are also involved in guiding the development, promoting the airport, planning for the future, and always attempting to grow aviation-related business, all for the benefit of Kootenai County residents. The airport has been here for over 70 years.

The Coeur d’Alene Airport Association (“the Association”) was organized in 2007, and is a completely different group. Its formation was long overdue. Since its organization, pilots and users of the airport now have a direct “voice” with the Airport Board and staff, and the airport has a viable means of distributing news and information. The airport “Association” and Airport Advisory “Board” are partners, both staunch supporters of aviation, safety, and the airport. The Association’s mission can best be quoted from our website at : “The purpose of the Association is to preserve the Coeur d’Alene airport, improve community relations, foster bilateral communications between this association and airport operations, participate in planned growth, enhance flying safety and promote fellowship among pilots and aviation enthusiasts.” Indeed, the Association is an integral part of the airport environment.

I’d like to dispel a couple of rumors first: 95% of aircraft owners using the airport do not have exceedingly expensive airplanes. Yes, there are a handful of notable community leaders and very successful business people who own small jets. They may be some of the “one percenters.”  Most assuredly, the rest of us are not! It’s difficult to say what the value of the “average” small airplane is. Some airplanes are over 60 years old and seat just two people, while others are somewhat newer and/or bigger.  It’s safe to say that the “average” small airplane based at your airport (Yes, it’s yours! It belongs to all County taxpayers, just like parks and other County amenities.) is worth about as much a new car or an older RV.

The other misconception is that the airport is a playground for the wealthy. The vast number of aircraft based at Coeur d’Alene Airport are flown for recreational purposes, or for travel in support of small businesses. There’s flight training that takes place, and a flying club where a number of pilots share the cost of a couple of airplanes.  In the summer, Forest Service fire-fighting aircraft are based at the airport. There’s a helicopter operation that flies in support of challenging logging operations. Relatively new to the airport is a non-profit Life Flight station. Their helicopter operation, dedicated to critical, emergency medical transportation, is staffed around the clock with pilots, flight nurses, and paramedics. Along with the flight crews, their hangar also houses office staff, mechanics, and support personnel. Not only is Life Flight a huge asset to our community, they bring 14 new employees and an economic impact of over a million dollars a year to our area.

Being a scenic and resort area, the Coeur d’Alene region hosts hundreds of visitors who fly in each year in scores of airplanes, ranging from two and four-seaters to business jets, to partake in various recreational opportunities.

Also, Coeur d’Alene is often the summer destination for large groups who own a specific aircraft, frequently business jets and other corporate aircraft. Often, over 100 aircraft will arrive for these events, contributing an economic impact in excess of a million dollars for our community for that week alone.

As a whole, the Coeur d’Alene Airport and the adjacent, aviation-related businesses employ 700 people and have an economic impact of over 130 million dollars a year benefitting the region.

So, how much does this big airport cost? That’s a bit of a trick question! The large picture divides the airport expenditures into two broad and slightly overlapping areas. The best explanation is that, generally, the funds to operate the airport: salaries, benefits, equipment, supplies, utilities, some repairs, etc., come from the County budget. Out of the 40+ million dollar County budget, the line item for airport operations is $953,349.  Please note that there are a couple of things the County budget doesn’t mention: The airport collects $512,823 per year in hangar lot rents leases and fuel flow fees — that’s like County tax on aviation fuel sold — along with some construction application fees and parking fees. Also, the County airport has lots of real estate. Over the years, scores of hangars have been built for which the County charges the owners property taxes of $153,794 per year. That revenue goes into the County’s general fund and is not attributed or credited to the airport. So, with that accounting method in mind, the net cost to the County to operate the airport is about $437,439 annually. If the airport-generated property taxes were credited back to the airport, the cost would drop to $283,645.

Kootenai County has over 83,000 taxable parcels. In the end, not considering the County’s crafty accounting methods, the average County property owner pays $5.27 per year to support the airport.

Don’t forget that due to increased fiscal efficiencies, the taxpayer cost for airport operations has been trending downward over the last 5 years. The airport is the only County facility that, each year, comes closer to the goal of financial self-sufficiency; no County facility is revenue neutral.

Here’s the second part of the explanation: To comply with Federal Aviation Administration mandates, to plan for future development, and to pay for those projects, the FAA gives us money through federal grants. It’s lots of money, and we use it well. Over the last 20 years, the airport has received over 30 million dollars of grant money. Each dollar of these federal grants comes directly from “user fees” and taxes generated by other larger airports.  Not a penny comes from the general revenue of tax dollars collected through income taxes and the like.  Each major airport project funded by government money is called an “Airport Improvement Program.”  Again, funding for these projects come from taxes and fees raised by other airports. Most of the time, the County/airport receives about 90% of the cost of each project from the federal government. Sometimes the State of Idaho pitches in, too. Many projects leave Kootenai County investing a match of only 5 to 10 cents of each grant dollar.

That grant money is used for projects to enhance safety and allow the airport to complement the growth of the surrounding community. Funds are spent for planning — looking 10-20 or more years in the future — to project the transportation needs of a growing region.

Mostly, grant money is used to improve the airport’s infrastructure, through these Airport Improvement Programs. In the last 20 years, your airport has been practically rebuilt. Old runways and taxiways have been renovated. The longest runway was totally rebuilt, parking was added, and for enhanced safety, a new taxiway added. The southwest part of the airport was platted and developed for new hangar construction. A state-of-the-art airport fire station was built and equipped with apparatus specially built for airport firefighting.

The guidebook for planning these Airport Improvement Projects is the “Airport Master Plan.” It’s done about every 10-15 years, and updated between complete rewrites.  It’s not prepared by airport staff, the Advisory Board, or the County Commissioners, although all groups have significant input, as does the community and neighboring municipalities. The writers are a team of consultants and engineers who specialize in this work. It’s an expensive but vitally important project. Fortunately, the federal government pays nearly all the cost. It is comprised of about 12 sections. The book winds up being in a huge binder, hundreds of pages long, with drawings, diagrams, charts, and maps. When complete, it must be submitted to and approved by the FAA.

A simple description of the Airport Master Plan starts with a snapshot of where the airport is now, and spends many chapters on present usage, contemplated growth, and ends with projections of what the community’s airport needs might be in 10 or 20 years. It’s available to review at

At the airport, federal grant dollars come with some serious strings attached.  The federal government and the FAA insist on a promise, which in “government-speak” is referred to as “sponsor assurances.” Why is that? When funds are accepted by the Board of County Commissioners, who are the most powerful elected officials in the government of Kootenai County, the BOCC promises the federal government that as a condition of accepting the grant funding, the airport will be operated in absolutely strict accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations. All of them. This has never been an issue until lately. The airport willingly follows all the FAA’s rules, the vast majority of which focus on safety. Our airport has been in compliance for decades. So, in summary, the airport gets grant money from the FAA in exchange for a promise that Kootenai County Government officials, through the Airport Manager, will follow all the government rules. No exceptions. That seems fair and reasonable.

I heard that the Airport Manager was fired. Why did that happen?

Until a few weeks ago, the airport manager (also called the airport director) was Greg Delavan. He has held that position for 20 years and did a superb job of running the airport. Greg has a passion for aviation and loves the airport. When it comes to safety issues, especially those mandated by the FAA, he followed the rules to the letter. That’s the gold standard and that’s what the aviation community and the FAA expect. Absolutely nothing less is tolerated!

By law, the government of Kootenai County is run by 3 elected County commissioners. There is no mayor, city council, or county administrator as exists in some jurisdictions or municipalities.  As in many governmental organizations (like the federal government,) there is no built-in system of checks and balances. Here, in Kootenai County, the Board of County Commissioners reigns supreme. The present Commissioners are Chairman Todd Tondee, Dan Green, and Jai Nelson. (That will change in January when two, newly-elected commissioners replace Mr. Tondee and Ms. Nelson.) These members are not career politicians. They are local community folks, elected by those they represent to govern and administer the business affairs of our County. Much of the time, they rely on their department heads and legal staff for expert counsel and advice.

A few weeks ago, Greg Delavan was summoned to the County building to meet with the Commissioners. He was fired. But, not all commissioners agreed to his termination. The vote was 2 to 1. Commissioners Tondee and Green voted to sack him; Commissioner Nelson voted against the action.

The commissioners would not tell Greg or the public why he was terminated, other than Tondee’s initial comment, “We want to move the airport in a different direction.” Typically, the commissioners can use the “We don’t discuss personnel matters” dodge. Greg, the consummate professional, has kept his head high and has stayed out of the public discourse.

If his job performance was grossly substandard, or for example, Mr. Delavan had broken some law, or done some awful immoral act, wouldn’t the vote by the Commissioners been unanimous? It wasn’t. Many think that Commissioners Green and Tondee acted in bad faith and made the wrong decision.

So, why?  The short answer to that question is probably “politics.”

Yes, friends, the political machine raised its ugly head, right here in Kootenai County!

Rumors abound, but what has leaked points to nasty politics, coupled with infighting between various local governments and quasi-governmental agencies.

Here’s a summary of what can be surmised relating to Greg’s termination:

Some of this story goes back well over 2 years. The pertinent events, as the known evidence suggests, happened over the last 6 to 12 months. And this whole matter focuses on roads and the political infighting between the proponents and opponents.

One proposed road has caused 90% of this grief: That’s Ramsey Road.

The other proposed road is known as the “Huetter Bypass,” a far-reaching, loosely-planned highway (interchanges and all) intended to connect Lancaster Road with I-90, roughly following the present Huetter Road. This proposed road is likely 30 years from being built. However, its plans are responsible for the some misunderstandings.

One version of this contemplated Huetter Bypass highway runs too close to the west end of the longest runway at our airport, creating a safety issue. It’s early enough now in the design process to alter things and curve 600’ of the proposed highway around the west side of the airport. The change would add about 200’ to the length of the road and thereby protect the west end of the airports main runway.

However, more problematical is the Ramsey Road matter.

The City of Hayden controls much of the land in the immediate vicinity of the Coeur d’Alene Airport. Hayden completely wraps 3 of the 4 sides of the airport. Kootenai County owns 99% of the 1,100+ acres of land upon which the airport sits.

The airport has been in its present location for more than 70 years.  The airport was present years before the City of Hayden was incorporated. Since then, the City of Hayden has expanded in many directions, annexing large tracts of land. Their most productive land grabs happened between 1990 and 2000, nearly doubling the size of their city and pushing Hayden very close to the east boundary of the airport property.

In order to annex and facilitate future development north of the airport, the City of Hayden desperately wants to extend Ramsey Road, from where it ends near Wyoming Ave., further north toward Lancaster Road.

Hayden’s plans have resulted in significant controversy. Here’s why: The City of Hayden originally wanted Ramsey Road to extend in a straight line, past the animal shelter, across airport property and continue north. That can’t be done and the City of Hayden should have known why.

The airport property through which they would like to build their road would let Ramsey Road continue in a straight line and would be the easiest and cheapest route for them. No, their proposed road wouldn’t cross a runway — but close. At the ends of each runway is a big piece of vacant land. Called a Runway Protection Zone, or RPZ, they are present at most  airports.  At all airports that receive federal money, an RPZ must be in place at each end of every runway. They are specifically designed to strict FAA standards.

A RPZ is a piece of empty land nearly always owned or controlled by the airport. They are not new or unique to this airport. However, at any airport, they are sacred ground. The shape is always a trapezoid — a rectangle with one end larger than the other. This RPZ starts at the end of the runway with the small end of the rectangle well overlapping the width of the paved landing area. The rectangle continues away from the end of the runway, widening like a cone. Depending on the runway design and use, the RPZ can be more than 2,500 feet in depth. The RPZs of all the runways at the Coeur d’Alene Airport are depicted in sections 1-7 and 1-8 of the Master Plan update. The link is above.

The single purpose for an RPZ at our airport (or any airport) is for safety. The RPZ provides a critical buffer zone at the ends of runways. Studies of aircraft mishaps show that more accidents happen close to an airport than anywhere else. These areas, at the ends of runways, are critical should an aircraft’s engine fail on takeoff. Landing accidents happen, too. Brakes fail, tires blow out, or a slippery runway could cause an airplane to skid off the end.

Buildings and many other forms of construction are not allowed in an RPZ. The safety reasons are obvious. FAA rules prohibit such use. If the Ramsey Road extension was allowed through the RPZ, Kootenai County could lose future FAA funding for the airport. It is unclear how much in FAA funds previously granted might have to be repaid to the federal government.

The City of Hayden did investigate other paths around the end of the runway. However, only two of the 11 alternate routes they proposed did not penetrate the present or proposed RPZ. It turns out that of all these alternatives the City of Hayden considered, only the so-called “Reed Road alignment” will not violate the airport’s RPZ. Hayden says that this route is too expensive, as it takes big loop around the east end of the airport.

So, the planners and consultants working for the City of Hayden are gravely disappointed.  The road that they were counting on to provide a path to more land to annex and develop can’t happen. Cities like Hayden desperately want more development because new houses and businesses mean more property taxes.

When the City of Hayden came to the airport staff concerning their proposed Ramsey Road extension as first planned, the answer was “no.” All the reasons concerning Runway Protection Zones were explained. Apparently Hayden’s consultants and planners were not well versed in the technicalities of airport design, compulsory airport layout plans, and FAA regulations. Most importantly, their planners and designers either didn’t read, or weren’t completely familiar with the Airport’s Master Plan Update. This is odd, because Connie Kreuger, a senior planner for Hayden, sat as an advisor on the committee that crafted the update. She was provided with a draft of the document and allowed months to comment on each section of the update while it was a work-in-progress.  No relevant objections were heard.  The final version of the update to the Airport Master Plan was completed in 2012. The Master Plan Update depicts an extended RPZ to accommodate a future 24% lengthening of the primary runway, in order to accommodate the changing mix of aircraft that the region may require in the future.

The City of Hayden’s 2013 Transportation Strategic Plan Update, prepared by Hayden’s consulting engineers and released in April, 2013, has many features of an airport master plan. The document chronicles, in quite some depth, Hayden’s 10-30 year transportation needs and includes massive amounts of charts and graphs. It’s good to do forward-looking plans and projections. The overall goals and general content of Hayden’s planning efforts parallel the studies that the airport does, except we use different engineers and consultants who specialize in airport work. The City of Hayden had a voice in our Airport Master Plan Update. I don’t know if that aspect of sharing went both ways.

The sad thing is that the Airport’s Master Plan Update was around for a year before Hayden prepared its transportation plan update — which many consider the driving force behind the Ramsey Road extension. The Airport’s Master Plan Update preceded Hayden’s transportation plan update by a year. We’ll never know why Hayden wasn’t familiar with our completed update.

Perhaps if Hayden’s planners, engineers, and consultants had studied the airport’s plan before spending vast sums of money in the planning phase of the Ramsey Road extension, this controversy could have been avoided. At the very least, perhaps some planner from The City of Hayden could have stopped by the airport office earlier with a rough sketch of their plan, so we wouldn’t be talking about this now.

As Airport Manager, it was Greg Delavan who kept saying no. The City of Hayden was looking for some compromise — some kind of work-around. Hayden desperately wants their Ramsey Road extension and just won’t take “no” for an answer.

Let’s be clear: It is theoretically possible for the City of Hayden to develop their Ramsey Road extension as they proposed — passing right by the end of the runway. However, such construction would limit the safe and effective use of the longest runway by nearly half, and ruin its capability to accommodate many airplanes.  Most grievously, any penetration into the Runway Protection Zone would eliminate Kootenai County and the Coeur d’Alene Airport from future FAA funding.  30 million dollars in the last 20 years. Zero in the future.

Some have asked, “Well, why couldn’t the City of Hayden get some sort of variance from the FAA?”  One can’t compare unbending federal regulations with, say, a homeowner who wants to do a home remodel and move her wall or garage a few feet closer to a sidewalk or property line than the building code allows. An application and visit with the local planning commission to approve a wall being moved may often be a routine matter. Having the City of Hayden build a road that cuts across the end of a runway isn’t a local issue. It’s just not possible, as long has the City of Hayden has another route — the Reed Road Alignment, as they call it. Yes, such a path will be much more costly to the City of Hayden, but it can be done.

For months, Greg Delavan has repeatedly explained the federal regulations to the City of Hayden and their agents. His answer was still “no.” Greg’s hands were tied. A professional “facilitator” was brought in to attempt to find an amenable solution. That failed. There was just no compromise or bending of the FAA rules.

From what the evidence suggests, the City of Hayden, through its planners, consultants, agents, and politically-connected friends and associates, began a concerted, mean-spirited campaign forcing Greg’s bosses, the Kootenai County Board of County Commissioners, to compel Greg to “make this work.” Of course, Mr. Delavan repeatedly explained his position and the FAA rules to the Commissioners.

Under unending pressure, and for other political and personal reasons we may never know for sure, the Commissioners finally became tired of Hayden’s complaining.

Maybe the Commissioners thought a new airport manager could “pull a rabbit out of a hat,” or find an elusive loophole that Greg and the FAA officials missed, that would allow Hayden’s Ramsey Road extension as planned.

Two of the three commissioners – Tondee and Green – voted to fire Greg Delavan. The voice of reason on the BOCC, Jai Nelson, did not agree and voted against the action. We appreciate her common sense.

So, is there a lesson here?  Absolutely.  Governmental agencies have to start talking more — to each other — about their respective projects! Get to know one-another’s plans, hopes, and dreams. Transparency engenders trust. After hundreds of thousands of planning dollars were spent on the dream of a road extension that simply wouldn’t work, it’s too late to point fingers, take sides, squabble among each other, and harm careers.

All of this could have been avoided with a quick meeting, or a few phone calls long ago.

The Coeur d’Alene Airport (through Kootenai County) and the City of Hayden wisely use government dollars obtained via federal grants for vastly different projects. What’s important to understand that these agencies don’t compete for the same dollars! Their respective grants come from different federal pockets. So, let’s lift any veil of secrecy. Let’s do a better job of sharing. Put this ugliness behind us, resume being cordial neighbors, and return Greg Delavan to his job.


Meaningful to these matters affecting the Coeur d’Alene Airport should be a wide-ranging discussion of whether commuter airline service would be of benefit to the community as the region grows. Citizens should be deciding if a 4-8 flight-per-day service to/from Boise and Seattle would be of benefit.  The critical question would involve convenience. Would one pay the same or a similar fare for regional flights and drive just 15 minutes to Coeur d’Alene, instead of 45-55 minutes to Spokane? Again, federal money would be available and the environmental/noise impact would be nil.

Following the Delavan injustice, a general election for many offices and positions was held on November 4, 2014.

The terms of two of the three present County Commissioners – Mr. Tondee and Ms. Nelson have ended.

In January 2015, Commissioners-elect Stewart and Eberlein will take office. Both have said, in various public forums, that they will ensure that Greg Delavan is returned to the position of Airport Director.

Greg has reapplied for his job.

Written by:

Jerry Rose, Member

Coeur d’Alene Airport Association

5 Responses

  1. Mike Bauer

    My wife and I pay over $900 a year in Kootenai County property taxes to North Idaho College alone, for which we receive in return nothing. Our six dollars to the Airport is insignificant. Furthermore additional Hayden land development is not supported by the pathetic State Highway design that forces heavy interstate and international commercial traffic through this region’s shopping district. Even Sandpoint has found a way to address this blight. Hayden has made a mistake by influencing lame duck Texas Tondee and SoCal Dan Green into this unfortunate personnel decision, and they will eventually have to explain their actions in public, or hopefully to State and/or Federal authorities who are paid to monitor the public trust.

  2. Mike Henkoski

    An well written and informative paper, I hope the Commissioners were sent a copy directly.

  3. Bob Kirkwood

    This needs to be in the local newspaper. It is thorough and factual.

  4. Joni Lueck

    To Jerry: Thanks so much for writing about this issue in layman’s terms. You broke down the history of the airport and what the problem now seems to be. I did not know the main issue was the building of the road near the east end of the airport. Thanks for your service to the community.

  5. Gary Farrell

    Jerry you have put into words what others in government are in capable of doing. As stated the facts dictate how the game must be played not good old boy politics.
    I am a hangar owner with two recreational air craft which makes me one of the many airport users. I totally support Greg and all he has done to further aviation in our community. I hope that common sense and facts will prevail in as much as those concepts are foreign to politics of city and county governments.

    Let’s hope for 2015 to be a year of progress and healing.

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