As ballots hit Spokane County voters’ mailboxes, Fairchild Air Force Base’s commander issued a rare warning Friday about possible encroachment near the base.
Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, said Friday that mobile home parks on the south side of Airway Heights are incompatible with Air Force operations. The parks, with 188 units, are located within an “accident potential zone” at the northeast end of the main runway at Fairchild.
The commander’s written statement comes as voters in Spokane County consider a property tax increase to pay to acquire those mobile home parks and relocate the tenants, but the statement doesn’t specifically mention the ballot measure.
Newberry’s statement also doesn’t address a proposed Spokane Tribe hotel and casino project that has some business and political leaders concerned about possible encroachment as well.
Newberry said the residential density in the crash zone “greatly exceeds the allowable standard of two units per acre for that zone, which is a non-compatible use within an accident potential zone.”
Proposition 1 asks voters whether they want to raise their taxes by 6.3 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to pay to buy the properties and relocate residents. The total cost of the project is pegged at $18.1 million.
The owner of a $200,000 home would see a tax increase of $12.60 annually for up to nine years if the measure is approved.
County Commissioner Al French said Newberry’s statement confirms that encroachment fears – and the ballot request – are legitimate. He said encroachment could become a mark against Fairchild in possible future base-closing decisions.
French said Fairchild is critical to the Eastern Washington economy, adding that the loss in property value and economic activity if it closed would be far greater than the cost of the relocation program.
In May, the Air Force decided to send its first fleet of new tankers, the Boeing KC-46A, to McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas, saying McConnell is closer to other bases that will operate the new tankers.
French said the scoring used by the Air Force in choosing McConnell also identified civilian encroachment in Airway Heights as an issue.
The county holds purchase and sale agreements with owners of the seven manufactured home parks at issue. If voters approve the ballot measure, the parks would be acquired at a price arrived at through independent appraisals.
At the same time, Catholic Charities and other organizations are working on a plan to build affordable apartments northeast of Airway Heights to create housing for the displaced tenants. Many of the residents in the mobile home parks are elderly and on fixed incomes.
Of the 188 units identified, 119 are individually owned. Another 69 units are property of the park owners and are occupied as rentals.