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~ Graham Hawkes






 Fate of Airport Update:

No Airport Lease Between Mt. Rainier Landings and Town - Group Paid Insurance to Keep Ownership
of Their Part of Runway

Council Informed of Plans for Swanson
Field at November 27 Meeting

     Airport aerial photo taken by Bob Walter in 2014 - plane piloted by  Steve Van Cleve. The buildings on the right are hangers built years ago. According to the Federal Aviation Administration. (FAA) the hangers are too high for an airport according to the Federal Aviation Regulations ( FARs), rules prescribed by the Federal Aviation Administration governing all aviation activities in the United States. The hangers now have small red lights on the corners as a warning to pilots.

         by Dixie A. Walter
          December 1, 2017

       Rick Adams of Ashford read a short statement during citizen comments. Adams, a member of the town's Airport Advisory Commission, is also a principal of Landings at Mt. Rainier, LLC, which in September purchased two of the three parcels that comprise the runway, through the execution of a quit claim deed signed by the owner, Sharon Burlingame, widow of the late Hal Burlingame.

    *Hal Burlingame had originally planned to deed his runway parcels to the town to be maintained and developed as an airport. He had a change of heart after witnessing dense, planned, residential development encroaching on the runway protection zone, in the preliminary stages of being approved by the town administration at the time.

      The third, and most northerly parcel, still belongs to the town. Landings took this step in acquiring the other two parcels after town administration officials had initiated discussions at Airport Commission and two committee meetings about the possibility of executing a ten-year-old copy of a quit claim deed pertaining to one of the two Burlingame parcels. The original has not been located, and a related draft 2010 ordinance, which would have authorized acceptance of the deed to the parcel on behalf of the town, was never acted upon.

     Lengthy discussions ensued at both of  the October council meetings about how best to move forward with regard to Swanson Field, a lease of the runway by the town as the lessee, being one alternative. The question of how the airport would be insured after the current policy expires at the end of December was another issue. So when Adams approached the podium, council and staff were all ears.

    Adams read, "After long consideration and a great deal of research. (garbled). Landings at Mt. Rainier, LLC has decided not to enter into any negotiations with the Town of Eatonville regarding Swanson Field.

    "We have concluded the best course for the future of Swanson Field airport and the aviation community is to retain the airport under the management of the LLC as a public use airstrip. Recognizing that the town is unable to engage in a public-private collaborative effort, we have taken it upon ourselves to insure all three parcels [that comprise the airstrip's runway] for five million dollars in liability insurance, listing the Town of Eatonville as additionally insured." Adams went on to say the LLC believes this will relieve the town and its citizens from liability, and from the responsibility of managing the airstrip.

Skateboard Park Closed for Winter

     In other news, Town Administrator Abby Gribi reported she visited the skatepark with a representative of the Town's insurance agency (AWC/RMSC), and that person recommended closing the skatepark during the winter months to reduce liability concerns. The skatepark is now officially closed for the winter months.

    *(Publisher's Note: See background information below.)


 Opinion - Swanson Field Airport Dispute:

Cui bono? Who Stands to Gain?

     Like a giant work of sidewalk art in chalk, Swanson field proclaims to approaching pilots they have reached the Town of Eatonville. Aerial view of airport in 2012 - photo by Bob Walter, plane piloted by Steve Van Cleve.

        by Nancy Adams
        November 4, 2017

      Cui bono? It is indeed an old Latin phrase, one that is still used today in legal terms. Its meaning? Who stands to gain, usually from a crime, and therefore might have been responsible for it. 

     Let me tell you a story about a small town, nestled in the foothills of Mt. Rainier. Like many rural towns, it is mostly a peaceful place...a safe place to raise your children. It has a small business district. It has nice neighborhoods where children run freely, even at 10 o'clock at night. It has dazzling views of nature, comfortable homes, and generally, not much of importance happens there.

    At least, in the grand scheme of things. There are no riots, crime is  mostly of the petty sort, and things just drift along day after day.

     But this little town does have one thing different from a lot of its country neighbors. It boasts an airport. The runway is paved (of all things), and was built by volunteers. In the 1950's, the Swanson brothers decided that Eatonville needed an airport. This was just after World War II, and business was booming in America.

     Many people had extra cash. Flying was a fun sport, and was also used for business purposes. The Swansons donated a piece of property to the town about 400 feet long, and then talked the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company out of another 2000 feet to give the airport a nice length for a small, single-engine plane. 

     They found other interested people in town -- fifteen loggers who had Caterpillar tractors, graders and other equipment that would smooth the ground enough to land an airplane. Airplane enthusiasts flocked to help, and before you knew it, Eatonville had its own airstrip. It even had lights so pilots could fly into it at night.

     At first, the only homes on the airport were from the diehard pilot enthusiasts. But hangars were built, and many people just parked their planes next to the strip. It was a good time, and the Eatonville Air Force used to buzz the town to signal the start of every 4th of July Parade. After all, flying is one of the ultimate freedoms that people of this nation can enjoy.

Sharon and Hal Burlingame

Photo taken at Lions Art Festival 2008 (photo by Bob Walter)

     One of the biggest supporters of this airport was H.W. (Hal) Burlingame. A pilot who flew for United Airlines in its heyday, Hal used to boast that the man who taught him how to fly had his logbook signed off by Orville Wright (yes, the Orville Wright), and this made him (Hal) second generation Wright Brothers.

    On his days off from United, he would teach other people how to fly, creating more generations of Wright Brothers. Then one day, Weyerhaeuser decided to sell its land on the east side of the airstrip. Since it was so close to an airport, it could no longer be used to grow marketable timber.

    Hal bought the property, thinking to subdivide it, and create more spaces for either homeowners who had a passion for flight, or businesses who also had a connection to flight. Without realizing it, Hal also bought the actual airstrip itself, subject of course to the strip remaining an airport, or so it says in his deed.

    Fast-forward a few years, and Hal made sure the airport flourished. He was its manager, and he kept it maintained. The runway was lengthened, and he got a grant from the Washington Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division to pave the runway. He could see the potential for good that an airport could provide to a town.

     Small industry can find a home on airports, visitors can fly into a small airport providing revenue to a small town. Flight was a passion with Hal, and it showed. But like many small towns, some did not see the value of an airport. Many small airports across the country are closing, leading to a shortage of qualified pilots who cannot find a small, convenient airport to learn to fly.

     After all, pilots do not learn to fly in a 747. They start out in a small, single-engine plane. You need a small airplane and airport to begin that process.  At one time, Hal thought about donating the airstrip to the town since it already owned the northernmost parcel of three that make up the
strip itself.

     He offered to donate the remaining two parcels, and the town considered it. But at the same time, developers looked at all the open land surrounding the airport (and the airstrip itself) with covetous eyes. They sought to build on all the land around the airport.

     They wanted to pack the homes in with greater and greater density -- smaller and smaller backyards as they were doing in other neighborhoods. The town acquiesced, greedy for the permit money.

     And for awhile, permit money flowed readily. And they were easy permits. Nothing complicated, nothing controversial ... just nice homes for nice people. But then the economy changed, and the permit money dried up, and the town found itself with a lifestyle it could no longer afford. Residential taxes for cities and schools do not pay the bills. Commercial and industrial taxes pay the bills.

     When the town allowed a development to encroach on airport space, fellow pilot Steve Van Cleve sued the town, and an airport overlay district was formed limiting the types of development that can be placed around the airport.

     No high rises, no big apartment complexes, half-acre lot sizes, but light industry and aviation-related businesses are allowed. And the town decided to let the airport languish by inactivity. No one who worked for the town ever sought out any businesses that would be a compatible fit for that airport. Sometimes doing nothing is an action and a statement in itself.

      Viewing all of this, Hal withdrew his offer of a donation of the two large  parcels that make up the vast majority of the strip. His widow, Sharon Burlingame said that when a council member called Hal to tell him that the papers for the donation were ready to be signed, Hal's answer was not just
"No", but "Oh, hell no."

     "He was so angry with the town that they cared so little for the airport that they would allow inappropriate development on the strip, that he rescinded his donation. He felt that they would incrementally destroy it, and the town would lose a public airport. I have lived here a number of
years now.

       I have seen the benefits that this airport brings here. If nothing else, it is always a place for Life Flight to land," she said. Fast-forward a few more years, and Hal succumbed to the ravages of
old age and died in 2012.

      Mrs. Burlingame inherited the airport along with the rest of her husband's holdings. While not a pilot herself, she fully supported her husband's vision of the airport. "I wanted the strip to remain public. Some people come out here just to walk around the perimeter road," she said. "I want it to stay as a public airstrip, open to the community for public benefit."

     Then the whole controversy over Aviator Heights erupted when a developer purchased the land on the south end of the airport after it had gone into foreclosure. He wanted to build much denser housing, put in mini-storage units on a piece of ground directly next to the airstrip itself, willfully exposing the public to hazards that an airport can produce.

     One child playing while his, or her, parents are in their storage  unit, dashing out onto the airstrip while a plane lands, can be an enormous tragedy just waiting to happen.

     The town did not care. They chose to disregard the town's Planning Commission recommendations. They chose to disregard the Open Public Meeting Act that the state has in place to guarantee a free and open discussion of matters that pertain to all. They closeted in a questionable executive session, and suddenly council members, who had pledged to support an open public airport, changed their votes.

    The developer got his wishes. Soon after, airport residents who had been told that they could make certain changes and improvements to their properties were denied permits or expensive limitations were suddenly added to their permits.

Town Administrator Abby Gribi

     Gribi was appointed town administrator by Mayor Mike Schaub in October 2016. She sat at the council table for five years and resigned to take the administrator position. She had previously
worked at a bank in Olympia. Bill Dunn applied for her vacated council seat and was sworn into office January 9, 2017.

    When one property owner, Rick Adams, questioned the town administration's sudden about-face,
and asked Town Administrator Abby Gribi if she knew what he was trying to do on his property, (pour a simple, concrete slab in his hangar) he was told by Gribi, that he "would do nothing" on his property.

    "I admit that I was a little taken aback," Adams said. "After all, what I was asking to do is perfectly permissible under the town code, and it is private property. I started to wonder just what the administration was up to."

     Gribi further confided to Adams at that meeting that the town had been researching the issue of easements of the town's airport. While an easement designating the airstrip to be a permanent airport is mentioned in the deed that Hal Burlingame signed when he purchased the property from Weyerhaeuser, that easement was apparently never recorded with the Pierce County Auditor.

    This means there are no limitations on what can be done  with the property. It does not have to remain an airport. That very next night, the town held a meeting of the Airport Commission (a town committee whose positions are filled by volunteers who have knowledge of airport issues and who make recommendations to the administration and town council concerning the airport).

     Gribi and town Mayor Mike Schaub attended this open public meeting. About half a dozen town
residents and interested citizens also attended. Gribi then proceeded to pass out a copy of a Quit Claim deed to committee members. This deed was for the middle parcel of the airstrip adjacent to the small parcel that the town owns.

     Gribi claimed that she had found the document while researching other matters of the airport. She said the town finance committee had instructed her to pursue the matter, and that the council would meet to accept the deed and execute the document. A citizen at the meeting questioned the legitimacy of a 10-year-old document where the person signing the document is deceased, but Gribi stated that she had already run the document by the town's attorney and had been assured that it was an "executable document".

     She said the town planned to do just that -- execute the document. After all, she said it had been notarized and was a done deal. It was just a matter of going through the appropriate steps.

    The next day, Landings at Mount Rainier, an LLC filed their own Quit Claim deed with the Pierce County Auditor acquiring the two parcels that Sharon Burlingame owned, including the middle parcel that the town was attempting to acquire.

    "The minute I saw that 'Quit Claim deed' from the town, I was suspicious," Mrs. Burlingame said. "To begin with, it was only for the one parcel. When Hal offered to give the property to the town, he was going to donate both parcels. He would never have just signed off on the one parcel.

     "Also, he supposedly signed this document on my birthday. I promise you, he would have at least mentioned it to me. When Bobbi Allison, (a town council member at the time of his original offer,) called to tell him that the papers for his donation were ready to sign, he flatly refused to sign them.

      He rescinded his offer because he was concerned the town would not honor his gift as an airport. Plus, the notary portion of this deed copy was on a different page than the actual signature. I don't even think that is legal. After all, a notary stamp is a guarantee that the person signing the document is doing it of his own free will. All in all, I considered it a questionable document from the first."

     At the same time, Mrs. Burlingame admitted that she was concerned enough that the town would try to execute the document that she wanted to try to prevent it. "I considered a lawsuit to get an injunction, but that could have led to another, more expensive suit. I am 78 years old. I don't want the hassle of a lawsuit at my age in life

  .  "Neither did I want the citizens of the town to have to pay for an attorney to pursue a highly
questionable acquisition for the town. After all, if I was looking to make money from the airport, I could have just gone ahead with the closure, and then sold out to a developer for a large amount of money. That was never my desire, nor was it the desire of my deceased husband. It is my property, and it appeared to me that they were just going to try to take it from me."

     Adams agreed with her. "What kind of community just  takes a widow's property without her consent?" he asked. "That is why our LLC agreed to take the airport. Our deed states that we only own the property as long as it is an airport. If it ceases to be an airport, then it reverts to Mrs.
Burlingame or her heirs. She retains any development rights. We consider ourselves to be stewards of that airport, not owners."

     A few days later, Byron Adams, another member of Rainier  Landings LLC, asked to view the original of the copy of the Quit Claim deed that Gribi passed out at the Airport Commission meeting. After a week of searching for the document, Town Clerk Kathy Linnemeyer stated that she could not provide an original of the document.

     Adams requested that she provide him a letter stating that the original could not be found, and
Linnemeyer graciously complied with the request.  "How were they going to execute a copy of a Quit Claim deed?" Rick Adams asked. "The Pierce County Auditor would have laughed them out of the room. To be filed, a deed either has to be an original or a certified copy.

      A copy can only be certified by a notary who states they have seen the original, and that this is an exact duplicate. The town has never been able to provide an original copy. How were they going to accomplish that filing with the auditor without the original? The purpose of the notary stamp is to
prevent fraud. In any case, we had no intention of allowing the administration to try to intimidate and harass Mrs. Burlingame."
     At a later meeting, Gribi stated that the town already owned the northernmost and the southernmost parcel. While she was quickly corrected that the town only owns the northernmost of the three parcels, it does possibly provide an answer as to why a copy of a Quit Claim deed provided by the town referenced only the center parcel, Adams said. To facilitate closure, all the administration probably believed they needed was to own the center parcel, he added.
     Bobbi Allison, an Eatonville resident who was on the Town Council at the time the Quit Claim deed was supposedly signed, said bluntly that "the deed they say Hal signed is a fake. Both Tom Smallwood [who was Mayor at that time] and I talked to Hal about this same issue and after some deliberation, and an extreme dislike of Nick Bond [the town's administrator at that time], he said a resounding 'No.'"

     Since *Rainier Landings LLC announced that the airport ownership had changed hands, the town council and administration have been in a visible uproar. Shortly afterward, Mayor Mike Schaub asked to meet with Rick Adams at the Town Hall. "I thought they were going to ask us how we could work together to create a lease for the airport, so I brought my other partners in the LLC. When Abby came out to get me for the meeting, she refused to meet with all of us. She said that the mayor only wanted to talk to me about my position on the Airport Advisory Commission. I said that discussion would best take place out in public at the next commission meeting on October 24."

     The mayor then proceeded to cancel the meeting on October 18. What. he doesn't want to talk about it in an open, public forum?" Adams added that he has a lot of questions for the mayor and Gribi, the town administrator. "Why did the mayor make sure that anytime the Airport Advisory Board members tried to have any input into the upcoming Comprehensive Plan for the town, we were not allowed to give our opinion?

     How come the town has again delayed the release of the draft advisory plan? Did they need to reinsert the language about the Airport that they had removed because they thought they could close it? Why did the mayor at the last town council meeting try to mislead the council when he said that the town could not receive any grants for airport improvements if it was privately owned?

     I am sure he must have known full well that the money to pave the airport came from a Washington State Aviation Fuel Tax grant. Why is the mayor so reluctant to have any kind of open, public discussion about the future of the airport? He and Abby are constantly in the mode of shut
them up; don't let them tell the council anything that resembles the truth."

     "This airport is a valuable commodity to this town, and  Gribi and the mayor are just trying to throw it away. Are they willing to do it by nefarious measures?" Adams said.  He added that Swanson Field could easily become a vital airport in case of any natural disasters such as earthquakes. Adams said the airport is currently listed as an essential public facility.

     He continued that he wanted to start working with the Eatonville School District to promote a CTE
course at the high school and middle school level for flying. "There is a crying need for pilots in this country. They are good paying jobs, and Eatonville airport is a good place to start," he added.Mayor Schaub has repeatedly stated that the airport is of no benefit to the town. If that is the case, why is the town trying so hard to acquire it?
     Cui bono, indeed.

     (*Publisher's Note: Learn more about Landings at Mt. Rainier LLC and see some of the letters opposing a housing development on the airport Here. )   


 Swanson Field Airport Dispute Heats Up

Open Letter to Mayor Mike Schaub from Rick Adams...

       Mr. Mayor Schaub,

       When are you going to let the rest of us in on your plans for Swanson Field, should you accomplish its closure? It's time the citizens of Eatonville and Town Council are provided a glimpse of how you, Mr. Mayor, are conducting the business of their town. 

      Yes Mr. Mayor, we caught you trying to pass off a copy, yes a copy, of a 10 year old Quit Claim deed that your staff has repeatedly described as "executable". When we asked to see the original, you are unable to produce it.

       Mr. Mayor, you and your staff, have been caught in an attempt to extort, using a copy (yes, you heard me, a 'copy') of, in the words of your administrator, an "executable document". You blatantly attempted to intimidate and extort, for the measly sum of $10.00 from Mrs. Burlingame, (a 78-year- old widow) her property.

      The same property that the town's own records show was valued at $1.1 million. At one time, the town actually agreed to purchase that same property for that price. What you tried to do is tantamount to theft.

      Sharon happens to be a very dear friend of ours. Thank God we were capable of stepping in to stop you. The mention of an ethics violation leveled against me at the Oct 9th council meeting, for doing so will not convince me or anyone else to shut up about what they believe has happened, and is occurring on your watch.

      This illegal and intentional "acquisition" effort can only be described as an act of un-abashed arrogance, occurring within a moral vacuum of delusional ignorance. Or was it an act of desperation? Is there something sinister behind your efforts to close our town's airport that would drive your administration to believe they had a right to steal a widow's property?

      Is this the kind of town Eatonville has become? What is it Mr. Mayor? What do you expect us to think?

      On September 11th, you were informed that we (Landings LLC) had acquired the property. We acted only to protect our friend from your, administration's designs. You recall on October the 15th, I was contacted by the town administrator who asked me to meet in your office with you on the 19th.

      I  had hopes of amicably addressing and resolving any concerns you may have had regarding our recent purchase. When you refused to meet with my wife and two sons, who came with me, we knew then that you had something to hide. What is it that is so important, so secret that you refused to share it with us?

     When you refused our olive branch of good will and turned us away, I informed Abby that whatever you had to say to me, I expected to be placed on the agenda for the upcoming Airport Advisory Commission meeting scheduled for the evening of the 24th of October.

      On the 18th, Mr. Mayor, you summarily cancelled that meeting. What are you afraid the citizens might discover is happening behind their backs? The time has come to turn on the lights so the people of Eatonville can see what is happening to their town.

      The Citizens Airport Advisory Committee has  reviewed the  town code; you do not have the authority to make this cancellation. The committee will reschedule prior to the council meeting on Nov. 27. Your opportunity to present "your" administration's position will be on our agenda.

      The people we represent deserve to hear what your office has planned for the airport and your reasons for your "irregular" actions. It is imperative that our committee and the citizens of Eatonville have an opportunity to hear the rationale for your actions, regarding the future of Swanson field. It is our responsibility to formulate an informed position to present to you and the town council.

      We look forward to, and are happy to provide you and your staff the opportunity to present your case at our upcoming meeting. It's more than what you have afforded us.

       We have an obligation, to you who appointed, and the council that confirmed us. Why is this so difficult for you to understand? Last we checked, our nation still operates under the Bill of Rights. The citizens of Eatonville deserve an open forum where they have the right to hear and voice their
opinion regarding how their government is conducting the people's business.

       Are you in trouble Mr. Mayor? With whom? What are you trying to hide? What is it that is so important that you are using every tool available to your office to keep your community from discovering your plans? Have you made promises to someone that you cannot keep, at the expense of an open public process in the town you took an oath to uphold?

      Are you concerned someone may end up in jail if the truth is exposed? Why would you bother to convene an airport commission to discuss matters of the airport, then neglect to bring before the council what they discussed, or cancel its meeting because its members appear to be a threat to your plans?

     We will not step aside, and allow the right to a fair hearing for  the people's concerns, while rights and property of a 78 year old citizen of your community are stolen from her. Nor will we sit silently by like good little children as you hand over the airport, which people of this town built, to your highest bidder.

     Who are your sights set on next? I've been walking around with a target on my back for the better part of my life for speaking out against injustice Mr. Mayor. Guess it's time for some fresh paint. Anyone in Eatonville care to join me?

    "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing" ~ Edmund Burke.

     Yours Very Sincerely,
     Rick Adams
     Member Airport Advisory Commission

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