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Airport board presents proposal for Chesy site

Debate on value of property continues

 

Even though the Lawrence County Commissioners have officially stopped pursuing the idea of turning the site of the county’s airport into a commercial development, the fate of the airpark dominated Tuesday’s commission meeting, two days early because of the July 4 holiday.

Bill Nenni, of the Lawrence County Airport Advisory Board, presented the commissioners with a one-page airpark agreement to go into effect Jan. 1, 2014.

“We encourage you to look at it and pass the agreement,” Nenni told the commission. “The advisory board and the pilots association passed it. We see it as a path forward for the airport without costing the county any more. We can self-sustain ourselves. We need the agreement in place.”

Under the agreement, the county commission would remain the sole controller of the airport and its real estate and be the financial sponsor for airport improvements. The advisory board, originally set up and appointed by the commission, would approve expenditures, keep a list of possible hangar tenants and facilitate capital improvements.

The pilots association would track the payments from tenants that are received by the county and take care of the grounds.

All funds in the county’s airport line item account would go into the next fiscal year. The commission would make the commitment to spend funds in that account only on the airport. Any anticipated revenues uncollected as of Jan. 1, 2014, would go into the airport line item when collected.

“These include, but are not limited to grant reimbursement, costs recovered from the eminent domain lawsuit, unpaid rents of tenants and other revenues that would normally be assigned to this line item,” the proposal states.

Recently the county filed an eminent domain lawsuit against the family that owns land adjacent to either end of the airport in order to upgrade the runways to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The county has valued that acreage at $280,000 while the owners say it is worth $1.8 million.

During the meeting Nenni said the county could recover its cost from the FAA.

“If we have done everything the FAA wants, we will all be reimbursed by the FAA,” he said.

“That isn’t true,” Commission President Bill Pratt said. “It depends on how much it is.”

Also in the agreement the county will collect the rents with the pilots association checking on the payment status of those rents and help in collecting late payments. The advisory board will recommend action to the commission on collecting past due accounts.

The proposed agreement also states “All expenses will be approved by the (advisory board) and paid by the (commissioners).”

While the commission postponed taking action on the agreement, Commission President Bill Pratt crossed that clause out of his copy of the agreement.

“That takes the decision making out of our hands,” Pratt said after the meeting. “I don’t agree to that. If we have liability of having an airport so we should have the decision making ability.”

Speaking out in favor of the proposal was Commissioner Les Boggs; however, action was tabled.

Later in the meeting Fayette Township Trustee Mike Finley spoke against investing in the current site of the airport claiming it benefits too few in the county.

“No economic growth can come from the airport when something else can be done there,” he said. “An airport of that size, we can’t afford it.”

Finley said only a larger airport at a different site with an 8,000-foot runway could benefit the county. He also contended that only seven Lawrence County residents keep planes there with the majority of those renting space are out of state.

However Nenni said the FAA statistics are that there are 42,000 take offs and landings annually.

“There is no way,” Finley said. “There are not that many good days in Lawrence County.”

Later Nenni said out of the 42 who have hangars or tie-down rentals at the airport, approximately 50 percent are from the county. Also Attitude Aviation, a business on the airport site, provides seven to 10 jobs and offers the largest aviation school within 100 miles of the county, he said.

“I think those seven to 10 jobs are critical,” Nenni said. “I don’t see any reason to be getting rid of those jobs. There are about 70 people who receive training at that airport. It is post secondary education.”

Pratt, who pushed to relocate the airport and turn the current site into a commercial development such as an upscale mall, reiterated his objections to the county supporting the airport.

“It is not a public airport. It is a private airport,” he said.

Pratt stepped back from his effort after the FAA told him since the county has taken more than $800,000 in federal funds for the site, the acreage must remain an airport. Also if the airport were shut down and commercially developed, the county could not have any of that revenue.

“That forces us to maintain an airport,” Pratt said. “In my opinion that is unconstitutional. I don’t think they can. Does Lawrence County want to get in bad debt to the FAA?”