DES MOINES, Iowa – Des Moines Airport officials say they’re in a standstill with the Iowa Air National Guard over its lease agreement on the airport’s property, and they don’t expect a resolution anytime soon.
“We were much closer to an agreement 18 months ago than we are today; promises have been made and broken, and the National Guard Bureau appears to be pulling away from the table – in fact, has pulled away from the table, which certainly isn’t our desire,” said Kevin Foley, executive director for the airport.
The Iowa Air National Guard has leased a base – over 170 acres – at the airport, for years, but when its F-16 fighter jets were withdrawn from the property in 2012, airport officials say it no longer qualified for the special lease. The special lease allowed the Guard to pay $1 per year for the land, but only as long as it conducted aeronautical operations from the base. Though the Guard replaced its F-16 operations with drone operations this year, those drones aren’t launched or received here in Des Moines; they’re remotely-operated from the Des Moines base, but take off and land at other locations across the world. Airport officials say that does not qualify as an aeronautical mission, and therefore, the Guard must now pay fair market value for its lease – an amount equal to around $5 million.
Foley says the Guard’s defiance in negotiating on a fair market value lease puts the airport in jeopardy; crucial projects, like the runway repair and the future addition of a second terminal, depend on grant money from the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA will only give the Des Moines Airport its grants if it charges renters fair market value for property, and has notified airport officials the airport is on a non-compliance period until it can resolve the leasing issue with the Guard.
“It may be a matter where [the Guard] ends up in a court of law,” Foley said.
The Iowa Air National Guard has announced it’s nearing a remedy to the problem: it’s working on moving its helicopters from its base in Boone to the Des Moines base. However, Foley says this still wouldn’t qualify the Guard for a $1 lease on its entire property. That’s because the $1 lease agreement only applies for the land required for the operation; the helicopters in Boone only require 20 acres, meaning there’s close to 150 acres at the Guard’s base in Des Moines that would still need to be paid for at fair market value. If the Guard won’t do that, Foley says they’d have to lose the property. Additionally, airport officials are interested in repossessing some of the base’s land, anyway, to make room for a second terminal.
Foley says he’s uncertain of how long this dispute will last, but does expect the airport authority board to discuss its options at its next meeting. Iowa National Guard officials have also said they are considering how much space the base will require in the future.