While the six candidates for three seats on the Lewiston City Council generally agree that the troubled Lewiston-Nez Perce County Airport has turned a corner, their views diverge on how to support that turnaround going forward.
Challenger Mike Menegas and incumbents Cari Miller and Ged Randall have been addressing that contentious issue and several others as they campaign for the Nov. 5 election (John Bradbury, Kevin Kelly and incumbent Jim Kleeburg were featured in Tuesday’s Lewiston Tribune). And Menegas has made the airport central to his first run at public office.
“The more I dug into it, the more I became passionate about it,” he said. “Largely, it’s on the right track.”
Menegas said he got interested in the airport when people, including several members of the Friends of the Airport citizen group, convinced him to apply for a seat on the airport authority board. He wasn’t selected, but his desire to do something about the airport’s problems and not just complain spurred his try for city council.
He faulted the city for not chipping in $50,000 the airport board wanted to help kick-start development of its south-side business park, even though the request came at the last minute and was in addition to a greatly increased appropriation for the 2020 budget year. There will be a quick return on the investment with the lease and property tax revenue it might generate, Menegas predicted.
“It’s not perfect,” he said of the late funding request, “but sometimes you have to adapt and understand and have vision.”
Miller said the council had already agreed to a much larger appropriation when the airport submitted its 11th-hour list of additional funding requests, including the money for the south-side project.
“We gave them everything they asked for except that $50,000, so you can’t say I’m not supporting growth at the airport or momentum at the airport,” she said, noting that other agencies that receive funding from the city make their requests months in advance. “Part of it was a process and timing issue.”
The city took some criticism from airport boosters and some Nez Perce County officials over that line item in the budget. In response, the city recently added up its financial and service contributions to the airport over the last 18 years, which totaled more than $16 million. That is 10 times the amount provided by other local government agencies like the county, which jointly owns the airport with the city.
Randall said he has taken some heat for not single-mindedly focusing on attracting new passenger air service to the airport after the loss of Horizon Air and its direct flights to Boise and Seattle last year. He wants that to happen, but said the airport should also work on short-term alternatives like charter flights to the Spokane International Airport where passengers can make multiple connections.
“There are a lot of airports that are successful with one airline in the United States,” Randall said.
He noted the importance of keeping remaining passenger carrier SkyWest happy. If the airport board offers incentives that end up luring another airline, it will have to give the same perks to SkyWest, Randall cautioned.
And he’s not closed to the idea of airport funding increases in the future, but only if the board follows through with the intended uses for this year’s appropriation. Any future requests should also align with the city’s strategic plans and available resources, he said.
“I just want to see what our priorities are next year and what the airport funding request will be,” Randall said.
In addition to his focus on the airport, Menegas said he is running as a pro-growth candidate. The longtime real estate agent recently finished a law degree, but hasn’t scored high enough on the bar exam to earn his license. Still, Menegas said he wants to use his legal knowledge to help the city attorney’s office loosen development regulations. He said the new code change that allows residents to add accessory apartments as a way to address the city’s low-income housing shortage is a good example of the kind of work he’d like to do.
If voters elect her to a second term, Miller said she will continue her practice of working directly with constituents on their day-to-day problems, rather than focusing solely on high-altitude policy work the council typically undertakes.
“I think that makes the most impact for people,” she said, highlighting her efforts on requests like getting a centerline painted on a busy street and having a block of Bryden Drive blocked at one end to prevent motorists from using it as a rush-hour shortcut. “Sometimes there are simple things we can fix that can really change your quality of life.”
That kind of engagement can make city government seem a little more friendly for people who have no idea whom to contact when they have an issue, Miller said. “If I weren’t doing that, I don’t think I’d be very effective.”
Randall, a retired firefighter, is supporting the city’s reassessment of the location for a new fire station in the western Lewiston Orchards. The city already bought land at the southeast corner of Fifth Street and Bryden Avenue for that purpose, but is now taking a look at other spots. Randall thinks that is a good idea since the traffic at that intersection can be heavy, potentially hampering the entrance and exit of emergency vehicles.
He also wants to use a third term to work on infrastructure issues like upgrading the busy Bryden Avenue and 21st Street/Thain Road corridors and improvements to the city stormwater system. Randall also wants Lewiston to explore a “50/50” approach to building new sidewalks, where the city splits the cost of construction with adjacent landowners. Those landowners are typically responsible for all of those costs under current city code.
And Randall thinks Lewiston should take another run at raising the Avista franchise fee to fund even more sidewalk construction. Voters overwhelmingly shot down a previous attempt to raise the fee, but Randall thinks it may garner more support if the new revenue is targeted only at sidewalks.
Mills may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2266.