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Commissioners award contract on work for runway extension

March 17, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A Hagerstown company received a $17.4 million contract on Tuesday for the first phase of Washington County's approximately $60.2 million runway extension project at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

By a 3-2 vote, the County Commissioners awarded the contract to C. William Hetzer Inc., contingent upon the contract being approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and commissioners James F. Kercheval and Doris J. Nipps voted in favor of awarding the contract.

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Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell and Commissioner John C. Munson voted against it.

Wivell and Munson also voted against the county undertaking the extension project in May 2003.

"I am just extremely happy that a local contractor is going to be working on this project," Nipps said.

The local economy will benefit as a result of that, she said.

Construction of the first phase is to begin in April and will include hauling about 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt from the Forty West Landfill to the airport, said airport consultant Stephen Lucchesi.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop said last week it will take 150,000 truck loads to transfer that much dirt.

The dirt will be used as filler for the extension project, which will increase the runway's length from 5,461 feet to 7,000 feet.

Airport officials have said the extension is necessary to meet an FAA requirement that the runway have 1,000-foot safety areas at each end by 2007.

"The outcome will be a compliant airport infrastructure and a more suitable runway length for today's aerospace standards," according to a written statement from the airport.

Airport officials have said that if the project isn't completed by 2007, 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.

The FAA agreed to contribute $47 million toward the project's total cost over a 10-year period. The state has agreed to pay about $10.6 million, and the county will contribute $2.6 million.

In addition to the $2.6 million, the county may have to pay millions more in finance costs, because the project will be completed before the FAA fully reimburses the county for its share.

According to a recent report, the county may have to finance about $18.8 million so that the project is completed by 2007. That means the county could pay from $4.7 million to $14.4 million in interest costs.

Supporters of the runway project have said a longer runway would attract businesses and may entice more people to fly in and out of the airport.

Munson, however, said he didn't think the project was worth the cost and that he didn't think it would "bring in the businesses that we've been told."

He also said he thought the project might cost more than anticipated, "leaving the county holding the bag" on the additional costs.

After the meeting, Munson said he thought about 2 percent of county residents support the extension, and that he was sorry that the project was approved.

"I think 98 percent of the people in Washington County are sorry, too," Munson said.

He said the issue should have been decided by a referendum on the ballot.

The extension project drew criticism during a public comment session Tuesday morning, several hours before the contract award was scheduled to be discussed.

Jim Laird, chairman of Citizens for the Protection of Washington County (CPWC), said the organization overwhelmingly objects to the project.

He said the cost of flying round trip from the airport is "out of reach for Washington County citizens" and that the airport's passenger service doesn't have many passengers.

"I seriously believe that the commuter service in Hagerstown may terminate in the next few years..." he said.

CPWC member Barbara Hovermale said ticket prices were unreasonably high.

"Is it really needed?" Hovermale asked of the extension project. "What good will it bring to the county? Is it something we have to do?"

Resident Dieter Protsch said he thought the county had more pressing needs than extending the runway, such as hooking up public water service to areas in Cascade.

"It's third-world country up there," Protsch said. "That's a priority, rather than the runway."

Nipps and Kercheval said the residents' opposition to the runway extension came from basing their opinions on newspaper columns, which they claim have contained inaccurate information about the runway project.

Nipps and Kercheval suggested that the residents visit the airport and meet with airport officials to discuss the extension before making a decision.

"It's a business park," Nipps said. "It's an economic development program that we are putting money into."

C. William Hetzer said after receiving the contract that millions of dollars will stay in the county as a result of the project's first phase going to a local contractor.

"Four or five years from now, you may be very happy that you have an extension to your runway," he said.

The airport contributes about $48 million annually to the local economy, according to a statement from the airport.

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