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Delay of grant worries airport officials

February 06, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

If distribution of a $1 million grant promised by the state of West Virginia is delayed much longer, Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport officials say they might lose a $600,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant earmarked to build portions of a new terminal.

The FAA funding is crucial to building the $2.6 million terminal, said Rick Wachtel, chairman of the Airport Authority.

Airport Authority officials discussed the concerns at their meeting Wednesday morning.

Wachtel sent a notarized affidavit to Brian Kastick, chairman of the state Economic Development Grant Committee, explaining the possible problems should the airport's grant from the state be delayed.

The federal money was a partial match to the state economic development grant.

In the letter, Wachtel listed his primary concern as the possibility that the Federal Aviation Administration money, committed to the airport last fall, could be lost.

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"Other airports throughout West Virginia and surrounding states are seeking airport development monies and these funds could be reallocated by the FAA to a more timely project should additional long delays be anticipated," Wachtel wrote.

A delay also could mean the terminal building project would have to be sent out for bids again, probably resulting in increased construction costs, Wachtel wrote.

The creation of new jobs, not only by the construction but through areas inside the terminal that are expected to be leased out, would be stalled, Wachtel wrote.

Lastly, Wachtel said, local companies considering supplying commuter service, particularly to Charleston, W.Va., might have to delay their decision.

The state grant money to the airport, along with that awarded for 34 other economic development projects throughout West Virginia, was tied up for months by a lawsuit.

Circuit Judge Charles King Jr. in Charleston, W.Va., ruled in late January that all the grants were awarded legally, with the exception of $70 million allocated for an outlet mall in Wheeling, W.Va. A letter sent by Kastick to Wachtel indicates, however, that the West Virginia Citizens Action Group, the group that filed the suit, is expected to appeal.

Group members have said they intend to appeal King's decision and will focus on whether the state Legislature has the power to tell the governor who to appoint to a committee.

The Legislature created the six-member Economic Development Grant Committee last year. Legislators provided Gov. Bob Wise with a list of 10 candidates to appoint to the committee.

Because of the suit, bonds for the projects cannot be sold.

Grant committee members intend to file a motion to shorten the appeal period and expedite resolution, Kastick said in his letter. Affidavits like the one prepared by the Airport Authority may be used as exhibits with the motion, Kastick said.

At the airport, FAA money could be used only for portions of the terminal that will not produce revenue. For example, it could not be used to build office space that is expected to be leased or for a restaurant. The money could be used for baggage and ticketing areas, along with a lobby.

Already finished is the new terminal's basement, which houses high-voltage switch gears that control airfield lighting.

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