The future of the Sand Canyon Airport

(By Brandon Hansen/Chewelah Independent) 

The City of Chewelah hopes to develop open land around the city airport. (Brandon Hansen photo)

What a developed airport could mean for Chewelah…

With the City of Chewelah moving to purchase the land that Sand Canyon Airport sits on, many community members have asked how that would benefit the regular people in town. Economic benefits are the reason, as the property would give the city additional space zoned for business that they could earn property tax and other income from. The airport too, would that would draw in people, provide aviation services and become earn funds for the city.

According to the Spokane Journal of Business, small airports are in high demand in eastern Washington. Newly renovated Felts Field and the Deer Park airport are seeing high growth. The Deer Park Airport saw an increase in traffic by 50 percent last year as well as developers licking their chops over undeveloped land they can use.

While Deer Park is much bigger than the Chewelah airport – 1,200 acres compared to the Sand Canyon Airport’s 86 acres – the concept is the same. Along with industrial and commercial land, hangar space is also in high demand as there is a shortage for places to store planes.

The Deer Park Airport has been at hangar capacity for the past four years and is expanding to hopefully meet demand. They are currently a base of operations for 125 aircraft and annual revenues are around $500,000.

It would be a big boost to the City of Chewelah’s budget, which had to tighten its belt since the Great Recession. In purchasing the land around the Sand Canyon Airport, the city received help from Stevens County.

At a recent city council meeting, Chairman Wes McCart, representing the Stevens County Commissioners, presented to the council a concept to help the city purchase the 86-acre property from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Currently, the city leases the land from DNR for $700 per year but would like to purchase it at the current appraised value of $259,000. McCart’s proposal to the council included a $100,000 contribution to the project and a $150,000 loan that later turned into part of a bond.

The city would be responsible for the remaining $9,000. Additionally, the county would contribute up to $50,000 for infrastructure improvements to help kick-start the development.

Recently, the Chewelah City Council unanimously agreed at its Jan. 17 meeting to move forward with selling a $450,000 bond to fund three projects, including the purchase of the Sand Canyon Airport property, the construction of a new fire station at the golf course neighborhood and to re-roof the city hall building.

According to a rough plan by the city, the Sand Canyon Airport could provide more hangar space, sell fuel to planes flying in and sell housing lots around the airport which, again, would turn into property tax revenue.

To help fund the project, the city is planning on selling house-hangar lots to pilots near the southern part of the runway. Pilots have already expressed interest in these lots, valued at $75,000 each.

Along with this would be about 50 acres that could be developed for businesses such as RV storage for people at the golf course, mini storage, a small engine repair company and other ideas. A shipping company like Fed Ex could also use the area and airport for various needs. As with many industrial and business park ideas, it would be open-ended but offer a lot of potential.

The property will be zoned (or sub-divided), splitting the business and residential areas off from the airport area.

“It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the airport,” Chewelah mayor Dorothy Knauss said. “There are so many possibilities to start developing.”

A convenience store to serve the needs of the golf course residents could also be a possibility as again the zoning would offer interested businesses to build up there.

With Chewelah’s golf course, ski resort and casino, shuttles from the airport for people flying in could also be a service possibly offered.

If new businesses popped up around the airport that sold things, the city would also benefit from sales tax.

Things wouldn’t happen overnight, and the development would take several phases and be over a period of years. The payoff, the city contends, would be a strong economic boost.

There is also the possibility of offering chartered flights out of the airport, along with flying lessons and ground training. Knauss said there could be a possible partnership with the high school to get students interested in the aviation industry.

“Another benefit with the airport is the exposure to who we are,” Knauss said. “We can have fly-ins, and that brings a good group of people in and they can see what a jewel we have here.”

With the addition of Charter Cable, the infrastructure for quick internet is also available for interested businesses moving into the area. Knauss said that slow internet was a big barrier for the city, and that is being taken down.

The first step, Knauss said, would be offering fueling services at the airport and then there is another planned eight phases. This is a rough plan and the city will be working now on a master plan for the airport land. The goal is to be inline with WSDOT needs to enable Chewelah to get more state grants. The city is looking at the sales tax and property tax potential along with the hanger space and airport services that could bring in a lot of money to its budget.