Commissioners OK runway extension

May 21, 2003|by TARA REILLY

The Hagerstown Regional Airport's $60 million runway extension project got the green light from the county on Tuesday, despite concerns from two Washington County Commissioners that the plan might not produce the local economic boost that airport officials and business leaders anticipate.

The County Commissioners voted 3-2 to accept an offer from the Federal Aviation Administration to pay $47 million, or 90 percent, of the project's total cost over a 10-year period.

The county and state each would contribute 5 percent, or $2.6 million of the cost. The state has committed to an additional $8 million for the project, according to a county document.


The county will receive the FAA's formal offer in a few weeks.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps voted to approve the offer from the FAA. Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson opposed the offer.

Airport officials said the extension project must be completed by 2007 to meet new federal regulations on runway length. If the project is not completed by then, the airport will lose its commercial passenger service and its ability to land jets used by area businesses, resulting in the loss of local jobs, airport officials have said.

Because the project is to be finished before the FAA would finish reimbursing the county, the county would have to borrow about $21 million to complete the project by 2007.

The county would pay interest on the amount borrowed, which would raise the county's total contribution to the project to about $8 million, Wivell said Tuesday night.

Airport officials have said a longer runway will allow larger jets to land, making Washington County a more attractive place for businesses to create high-tech, high-paying jobs.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said after the commissioners' vote that they made a good decision. "If it doesn't happen, people will lose jobs and commerce will go places where there are airports," she said.

The airport contributes $50 million a year to the county's economy, according to a written statement from Motz.

Nipps and Kercheval said the county had too much to lose if it didn't move forward with the extension project.

"I think we really, seriously need to have this project," said Nipps, who also is on the Airport Commission. "We can't sit back here and continue to ... wait for business to come here."

Wivell said airport officials failed to provide specifics on how or why they think the project will benefit the county.

"What is the runway extension going to do for Washington County?" Wivell asked. "What is the payback? How many industries are we going to attract? I haven't seen the business plan to know what the runway extension is going to provide for Washington County."

After the meeting, Munson said he agreed with Wivell's comments. He said he doesn't believe the average county taxpayer cares whether the runway is extended or whether the county has an airport.

"The taxpayers aren't interested in us getting more deep in debt just to make the airport runway longer," Munson said.

How they voted

The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to proceed with the Hagerstown Regional Airport's runway extension project:

Yes: Snook, Kercheval, Nipps

No: Wivell, Munson

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