Drag racing at Tonasket Airport?

TONASKET – Could Sunday drag racing be coming to Tonasket?
That’s a question the Tonasket City Council was asked to examine as Roger Sawyer of the Tonasket Comancheros broached the subject at the Tuesday, Feb. 14 council meeting.
He said the Comancheros had been approached by a Canadian drag racing organization that wanted to use the Tonasket airport for part of its drag racing series.
“This would be a Sunday event,” he said. “I came to see if the council would entertain the idea, or if they don’t want to do it at all I can tell these folks.
“I’ve done some research; we’re looking at a lot of Washington State cars and Canadian cars that would be coming in for the weekend.”
He said that the Osoyoos and Oliver air strips were being used for similar events. He added that the Comancheros would be willing to cover insurance costs.
“Our goal would be to turn the event over to the Airport Improvement Club, to run gates and concessions and use it as a fundraiser,” Sawyer said. “It could be another big shot in the arm for Tonasket.
“They’re wanting to get something going on down here, because the border is so hard to cross. A lot of racers down here can’t cross the border.”
Council members said that questions regarding the condition of the landing strip needed to be answered before there could be any kind of go-ahead.
Councilmember Jill Vugteveen asked if the racing would cause additional wear and tear to the runway.
“The cars aren’t nearly as heavy as airplanes,” Sawyer said. “And their tires are wider, so the pounds per square inch are less.”
Sawyer said that the racing organization hadn’t inspected the Tonasket airport runway to see if the surface, as it is now, would be suitable for racing. The race would be a one-eighth mile course that would keep the speeds down and not necessitate the use of parachutes. Racers would drive street cars, not funny cars or dragsters.
“I don’t need to have it sold to me; I like the idea,” said Councilmember Jean Ramsey. “But we need to make sure of the impact on real estate in the area.”
City superintendent Bill Pilkinton said he wanted to be sure the runway, which is slated to be re-sealed, wouldn’t be subject to further damage.
“We don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “In the hot months to be out on that strip, that’s what I talk to (police chief) Rob Burks about when he does his program up there. … We don’t have a base under there. Another thing we should look at is whether it would affect funding that we could get at the airport.”
“That’s why I’m looking to see what else has been done in Washington State, said mayor Patrick Plumb. “Though if the cops had been able to go up and use it, that should be the same kind of thing.”
Councilmember Scott Olson wanted to know if the drag racing could spill over to misuse of the airport.
“Does this have any carryover into kids going up to practice, or encourage misuse of an airport that’s not well-guarded?” he asked.
“I plan on getting hold of the county sheriff’s office and see what they would think,” Sawyer said. “We need to know if they would be for it or against it. If kids can’t go up there and practice they may try to practice elsewhere. We can’t have it happen in the streets, either.”
Plumb said he would attempt to set up a meeting in early March with the council’s airport committee, the Airport Improvement Club and the Comancheros to discuss the possibilities and ramifications of the proposal.
Improvement projects progress
With confirmation that the water and sewer projects will receive their full funding, the projects are “100 percent going forward,” Plumb said. “We did get the letter from Rural Development that said we are getting that loan for sure…
“It’s great for the city all the way around, and for the residents that need those services that will soon be ‘in town.’”
The pedestrian project, which will result in an improved crossing from the North Valley Hospital to its parking lot, also will be getting underway. There will be a plan review on Feb. 28 that will take place at the council meeting that evening. Fitting the project into the city improvement plan will be a consideration.
Parking and ordinances
The South Tonasket Ave. parking situation has still not been fully resolved, although a meeting between resident Lisa Andrews, Pilkinton and Chief Burks was to take place Feb. 15 in an attempt to help Andrews deliver a written proposal for the council’s consideration. A combination of lack of adequate residential parking and a city ordinance that prohibits parking on city streets from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. has been the source of plenty of discussion since December.
Enforcement of that an other ordinances has been a sore point with city residents, Plumb said.
In response to word that some residents wanted to be specifically informed that certain ordinances would henceforth be enforced, Plumb said, “We’ve taken an oath to enforce the law. State, federal, constitution, local. It seems pretty clear.”
“We’ve asked for this, the mayor has asked for this,” Vugteveen said. “We’re going to hear a lot of grumblings for a while until they get used to the fact that we’re not going to go away. This is an expectation, we want to enforce the ordinances or get rid of them. Getting people used to the fact that we’re changing the way we’re doing business, there’s going to be growing pains.”
“That’s just part of being a cop and law enforcement,” Burks said. “Nobody’s ever going to be happy with what you do, but we still do it because we love it. It’s just the circle of life.”
Plumb added that he’d been getting positive feedback from residents who had been asking local police for rides home rather than driving after feeling they’ve had too much to drink.
Olson’s to-do list
Councilmember Olson reviewed a laundry list of issues that he had previously brought to the board. Those included:
– the status of inoperative streetlights on Highway 20 near Tonasket School District (waiting on PUD and weather, as the lights require ballast repair, according to Pilkinton);
– a policy for the use of video surveillance by the police (Burks said one doesn’t exist yet; Olson asked to get something in writing by the next council meeting so as to ensure citizens’ privacy is protected);
– capability for the police to haul dogs (Pilkinton said that he could provide a pick-up that had been put up for surplus, including a canopy);
– status of the railroad crossing south of town (Plumb said that it is progressing);
– status of construction on the three-bay shed (Pilkinton said that it is ready to go out for bid);
– status of new basketball hoops at the park (Pilkinton said they had been purchased and installed);
– and other repairs to the Little Learners Park (Vugteveen said that the parks committee would discuss repairs with volunteers from the Tonasket Kiwanis).
Other actions
The council also approved a bill for $40,828 from Varela and Associates as part of the water/sewer project; a code of conduct document required to receive Community Development Block Grant funding; and a letter to the county requesting discussion of zoning regulations of the area surrounding the airport. Also, the council approved a budget amendment adding $2,532,520 to the city budget to account for the swimming pool fund and loan and grant money from CDBG funds, ECY funds and Rural Development funds for various improvement projects.
The Tonasket City Council next meets Tuesday, Feb. 28, in the council chambers.

About Brent Baker

Brent is a reporter for the Gazette-Tribune. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent started work at the G-T in 2011.

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