King County investigates Enumclaw airport
April 30, 2009 · Updated 1:07 PM
Airport must bring structures into compliance
By Kevin Hanson
A dispute is brewing at the Enumclaw airport, one that could eventually threaten the existence of the small, rather informal operation.
On one side of the fence are Paul and Micheline Petite, owners of the private airstrip, complete with dozens of hangars. On the other side is King County and its Department of Development and Environmental Services, which is demanding that all airport facilities be properly permitted and brought up to code.
And in the middle are all the pilots - between 40 and 50 - who regularly fly in and out of the small operation that sits just a stone's throw from the Enumclaw city limits. The airport is found along the western edge of 244th Avenue Southeast, which happens to be the city's western boundary.
The airport had already served the community for decades when Petite - a former Boeing employee who spent years selling aircraft in Saudi Arabia - took ownership. His income from the property stems from the modest rent charged for hangars. There's no fee assessed for landings and takeoffs, there's no longer a restaurant on the grounds and no fuel is sold. The hangars are not supplied with water or power.
Apparently, everything operated smoothly until there was a falling out between Petite and one of his tenants. The tenant was asked to leave and, subsequently, asked King County to look into the operation.
Handling the complaint for the county is James Toole, who serves with the DDES code enforcement office.
In a detailed letter, Toole outlined how many of the airport structures were build without the required permits and inspections. Also, a recreational vehicle on the airport grounds is permanently occupied, another violation.
“The county is asking that he (Petite) bring the structures into compliance,” Toole said during an interview last week.
In a second letter, dated Nov. 22, Toole assured, “We do not intend to shut down the operation of the airport.”
In a subsequent interview, however, he was adamant about seeing the required work done. There's no chance the county will rescind its requirements, Toole said.
The Petites have called upon longtime friend Vicki Schmitz Block to work on their behalf. She has talked with both King County and the city of Enumclaw, hoping to find a resolution to the matter. Her latest request is that the county's requirements be put on hold, until the county and city can discuss the airport and the possibility that the operation could eventually be annexed by Enumclaw. While not currently in the city limits, the airport property falls within the city's Urban Growth Area.
Toole said the county will wait until after the holiday season to consider a timeline for enforcing its requirements.
“We haven't taken any position, one way or the other,” said City Administrator Mark Bauer. “I'm not sure exactly what they want from us,” he added, referring to Block and the Petites.
The city cannot annex any property at this time, due to the moratorium that will be in place until the municipal wastewater treatment plant is improved, expanded and operating.
Toole noted the city would likely shy away from annexation, even if it were possible. Cities generally will not embrace property that has existing code violations, he said.
Among those who would be said to see things change are local pilots Al Lau and Rick Roark. Lau rents the largest hangar, where he keeps three small airplanes of his own and rents space for two others. Roark, who flies internationally for Trident Seafoods, keeps a small plane that gets a lot of use; both Roark and his college-age son, Charlie, are licensed to fly.
The Petites, Roark said, have been “reasonable and easy to work with.” Their ownership, he said, has created something of a family atmosphere at the airport, which boasts a 1,700-foot runway consisting of grass, gravel and, often, mud.
If the airport were to disappear, he said, local pilots would most likely keep their planes in Auburn. Aside from the travel, he said, the cost would be much greater.
Lau, a retired FBI agent who has been flying since he was a student pilot at age 16, echoes Roark's sentiments. The Petite's operation serves the community well, he said, and has maintained a good relationship with its neighbors.
Kevin Hanson can be reached at email@example.com.