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Munson, Wivell say runway info came too late

May 22, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Two Washington County Commissioners said Wednesday the commissioners weren't given enough time to discuss funding details of the $60 million runway extension at Hagerstown Regional Airport before they were asked to make a decision.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson also said they didn't know until the last minute that the county would have to contribute several million dollars more for the project than what they previously had been told.

The other three County Commissioners, however, said that while they didn't know the exact cost to the county until Tuesday, they were well aware that it would be higher than earlier estimates.

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The County Commissioners approved the runway extension project Tuesday by a 3-2 vote. Munson and Wivell voted against the project.

"I think that the commissioners were not told enough stuff up front, and it's got to change," Munson said. "We were railroaded."

The Federal Aviation Administration has told the county it would pay 90 percent, or $47 million, of the project's total cost over a 10-year period. The state has committed to paying 5 percent, or $2.6 million, and an additional $8 million.

The county is to pay 5 percent, or $2.6 million.

Because the project must be completed by 2007, but the FAA won't fully repay the county for its share for 10 years, the commissioners will have to borrow about $21 million to complete the project on time.

The extension must be finished by 2007 to meet new federal regulations on runway length, airport officials have said.

As a result, the county will have to pay millions in interest on the $21 million loan, Wivell said Tuesday. The county's total cost for the project will be about $8 million.

Wivell said Wednesday he was disappointed that he wasn't told by county staff members, airport officials or the FAA until about two weeks ago that the project would cost the county more than the 5 percent share it originally had agreed on.

"I hadn't heard a thing about it, which I thought was kind of poor," Wivell said. "They'd have to be aware of it. I just think we should've been informed a little better within the last two weeks."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said he's known that the county would have to pay more than the 5 percent share since last fall.

"No one told me. I had just estimated in my mind," Snook said.

He said he had a discussion with a project engineer around Christmas that solidified his assumptions.

Snook said all the projects the county undertakes that are paid for with federal money require the county to pay up front and be repaid.

Commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps said Wednesday they have known for several months that the project would cost the county more than anticipated.

"I think we've talked about it," said Nipps, who is on the Airport Advisory Commission.

Nipps said airport staff had discussed the project's funding with the Airport Advisory Commission.

"This was not something that was done quickly," Nipps said. "If someone claims they didn't know the cost of it, then they must have not been paying attention."

"I always knew we would have to put in more than a 5 percent share," Kercheval said.

Kercheval, Nipps and Snook said there was no way of knowing how much more the county would have to pay until the FAA made its $47 million offer.

Kercheval said it's possible the county will receive financial help from the federal government in paying interest on the loan.

Airport Advisory Commission Chair Anton Dahbura said Airport Manager Carolyn Motz told county staff and the commissioners of the project's funding scenarios.

"I think we've known for some time," Dahbura said.

Motz did not return two calls to her cell phone and home.

Airport Advisory Commission member Spence Perry said waiting for word on what the FAA would contribute toward the project probably caused confusion among airport and county officials.

"I don't think it was really clear to any of us until we actually saw what the FAA proposal was," Perry said. "I think we were all a little taken by surprise. I don't think there was any evil intentions on anybody's part."

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