PENDLETON — The history behind Pendleton’s Airport Road extension has a long and contentious history, and it took another turn on Tuesday.
At a meeting, the council unanimously voted against conveying its purchase option for 60 acres of Airport Road property back to A & B Pinkerton Inc. without compensation.
The decision came just three months after the city council agreed to relinquish the option in exchange for $8,937.
In an interview Wednesday, A & B President Don Pinkerton explained what changed, which involves the city’s decades-long effort to establish an industrial park west of the Pendleton airport.
Pinkerton said the relationship between the city and his family has been historically good, dating back to the 1990s, when the family took out a $500,000 loan to buy out a few obstinate owners who opposed the city’s plan to extend Airport Road from the Eastern Oregon Regional Airport to the Exit 202 interchange and build an industrial park around it.
“This was when it was determined that the only flat land that was near Pendleton was Pinkerton property,” he said. “It’s also when the Walmart distribution center was being built in the Hermiston area, and Pendleton was about to be passed by Hermiston.”
After the extension was completed in 2009, A & B agreed to sell 40 acres of land near the intersection of Airport and Stage Gulch roads to the city for $500,000. As a part of the deal, the city acquired an option to buy another 60 acres in the future at the locked-in price of $12,500 per acre, a potential bargain if the industrial park took off.
But the industrial park has yet to take off, and with Pinkerton looking to sell A & B’s remaining land west of the airport and retire, he recently approached the city about resolving its interest in the 60 acres.
Pinkerton said he not only agreed to sell the land at the $12,500 price point, he lowered his asking price to $5,000 per acre.
But City Manager Robb Corbett passed on it, reasoning that the city couldn’t afford the price, there had been little prior interest in the city’s existing Airport Road land, and the city’s economic development focus had shifted to an unmanned aerial systems range on the airport airfield.
The two sides eventually came to a deal: The city would relinquish its option, making it easier for Pinkerton to sell the land to someone else, and Pinkerton would give the city a little less than $9,000 in compensation.
But just before the city council started discussing the sale in June, Pinkerton said Corbett and Steve Chrisman, economic development director and airport manager, held an impromptu meeting with him.
According to Pinkerton, they had a new proposal: A & B had to grant an easement to the UAS range for drone operations, or the deal was off. Pinkerton reluctantly agreed.
“I was angry, but I didn’t have anybody to discuss this with,” he said. “In my mind, I decided that this wasn’t the hill I wanted to die on, so I said yes.”
According to Corbett, when both sides agreed at the impromptu meeting, he meant that the city would have access to the property until Pinkerton sold it rather than an easement, which would have granted the city permanent access regardless of the owner.
“It was merely a convenience issue for us, as I explained in the meeting (on Tuesday),” he said. “It’s not critical.”
Chrisman did not return a message requesting comment as of press time.
After the meeting, Corbett heard Pinkerton and his family were unhappy about the UAS option. He reached out to Pinkerton and apologized, saying he didn’t know that he had felt pressured to concede UAS access, offering the option for free as a gesture of goodwill.
Pinkerton agreed, leading to council’s vote on the revised deal on Tuesday.
At the meeting, Councilor Scott Fairley said he didn’t want to give up on industrial land that was potentially valuable.
“I don’t think it’s a good business option for the city,” he said.
Mike Short, a Pendleton Airport Commission member, was the only member of the audience to speak during the public hearing, and he also come out against it.
Short said if things changed in the next few years and the city wanted to pursue the property, it was better to have a set price for the property through the option rather than renegotiate the price.
“I think it would be a mistake to let it go,” he said.
Fairley made a motion against conveying the land to Pinkerton, and the council unanimously approved it.
“We obviously have a difference of opinions here,” Mayor John Turner said. “I guess that’s why we have democracy in America.”
Seemingly at an impasse, neither side knows exactly what will happen next.
Corbett said he would need to talk to some of the councilors and gauge how they would want to proceed.
Even if the council takes no action on the option, it expires in 2026 regardless.