When they voted 3-2 in July to close part of 71st Street South to allow private Cook Airfield to extend a runway, Sedgwick County commissioners did so over the strenuous objections of the leaders of the county's second-largest city, Derby, as well as numerous neighbors.
That took nerve, and a lot of faith in the airport owners' big plans and promises of an "unlimited" number of resulting jobs. Owners Greg Thomas and Steve Logue certainly presented a strong argument that the expansion would be good for the area's pilots and aviation industry, attracting larger planes and allowing them to develop 18 residential lots and possibly include a trade school and aircraft service center.
In the weeks since, though, it's become harder to understand what commissioners were thinking in favoring the airport owners with the closure of an unpaved stretch of 71st Street South between 127th and 143rd Streets East. Now, Derby has filed a lawsuit and, in response, the airfield owners are calling for a boycott of Derby businesses.
The owners' contention that opponents are being anti-aviation overlooks the real issues involved, including how the closure will affect drivers, emergency response and Derby's long-term growth.
It's one thing to discount neighborhood opposition because of some greater public good in how a private business plans to use private land. It's another thing to let private developers assume full control and use of public land.
It also looks bad that Thomas and Logue each donated the maximum $500 to the re-election campaign of Commissioner Gwen Welshimer — just after the July 21 meeting at which Welshimer voted to approve the road closure, and after having been urged by Welshimer not to contribute until after the vote. Welshimer's assurance that the donations had no effect on her vote may not be enough for constituents, at least those unwilling to shrug off the sequence of events as harmless politics as usual.
Throw the campaign contributions, legal challenge and proposed boycott into the mix, and it looks like the commission acted without full consideration of what it would mean, as well as look like, to close a public road at the request of private developers.