Airport, NASCAR plan at odds

Local aviation enthusiasts on Monday threw a roadblock in the path of a proposed Kitsap County NASCAR facility by pointing out the racetrack’s proximity to Bremerton National Airport could be a problem rather than an asset.

“NASCAR is known for this, building a track near a rural airport so they could fly their jets right up to the track,” said Don Dicksion, president of the Bremerton Pilots and Tenants Association. “That all changed after Sept. 11. Now, whenever there is a major sports event the FAA imposes a temporary flight restriction, which is enforced whenever the event takes place.”

Dicksion said local pilots have known of this problem for several months and decided to go public at Monday’s Kitsap County commissioners’ meeting to give the issue a wider visibility.

If NASCAR builds in the proposed site, they said, it would restrict the times the airport was in use (although races occur only a few times a year). These restrictions would seriously impair the airport’s expected growth,

South Kitsap Commissioner Jan Angel said she had not heard about these restrictions, noting they bear investigation.

Angel declined to weigh the needs of NASCAR against those of the airport, saying “I won’t make that call until there is a proposal from NASCAR.”

North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen also wanted to know the facts before taking a stand. But if NASCAR seriously restricts airport growth, she said, “That will be an issue for me.” 

Dicksion said he is not against the idea of a track, but maintains it should be at least five miles from any airport.

Dicksion brought up the topic at the commissioners meeting during a discussion of an amendment to allow automobile and motorcycle racetracks as part of a business center in the South Kitsap Industrial plan. On paper, at least, this removed one obstacle to the proposed construction of a the NASCAR track.

“We made a mistake here,” Angel said. “This corrects the mistake and brings it back to our original intention. This is housekeeping. We only held a public hearing because it’s been two years since the original decision.”

When some meeting attendees criticized the commissioners for slipping in the amendment with little fanfare, the board assured the public any racetrack proposals would receive adequate public testimony,

While Endresen asked speakers to address the amendment only, several speakers addressed the issue, previewing how the debate may eventually transpire.

Much of the argument had to do with strengthening the local infrastructure in order to accommodate the facility, since the bridges and ferries — even including the second Tacoma Narrows Bridge — may be inadequate to handle the increased traffic volume.

“Support of any sporting event will result in additional needs for a large, short-term influx of people and businesses,” said George Warrington of South Kitsap, “This leads to a greater burden on the local taxpayer for the benefit of a special interest group.”

The amendment, as worded, allowed for racing within the boundaries of a “business center.” Tom Donnelly, a representative of the Citizens for Responsible Planning, spoke out against the amenedment, arguing that a racetrack did not belong in an area so designated.

The board unanimously approved the amendment while promising to answer the questions posed at the meeting and assuring that it would hold adequate public meetings when the time came to do so.

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