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Runway project takes off

April 17, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

The compliments flew more often than the planes at Hagerstown Regional Airport north of Hagerstown Friday, as dozens of dignitaries basked in the sun and a $60 million runway extension project that was about to begin.

The festivities revolved around Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., whose arrival was greeted by "Top Gun Anthem" from the Tom Cruise movie about planes and pilots.

Airport Manager Carolyn Motz said Ehrlich, a Republican who helped secure more than $10 million in state money, was supportive of the project as soon as he reached office.

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"We are very, very grateful that he saw the merit of our program and he agreed that it was the right thing to do for our state," she said.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he previously asked Gov. Parris Glendening, a Democrat, for money, but got nowhere.

"I got blown off time after time," he said.

"Do not thank me for doing the right thing ...," Ehrlich said. "What an economic powerhouse this airport represents."

"The economic impact of this airport is over $50 million annually," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps, a Republican, said. "That is not a small amount."

Once or twice during the speeches, planes shuttled down the runway, turning heads.

The main thrust of the project is extending Runway 09/27 from 5,461 feet to 7,000 feet and realigning U.S. 11 so that it goes under the extension. Motz has said the extension was necessary so that 1,000-foot safety areas - mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration - could be added to each end.

A sketch plan indicated that the opening phase - which includes excavating east of U.S. 11, relocating a floodplain and managing stormwater - is scheduled to last from now until May 2006.

About 100 people crowded around a podium on the edge of the Aviation Resources DE, Inc., hangar to hear Motz, Ehrlich and a host of other politicians and their assistants champion the runway project.

Even before they marched along taxiway N and turned left on taxiway A to ceremonially shovel dirt, many agreed that much of the figurative heavy lifting had been done.

Speakers congratulated Motz, each other and the Washington County Commissioners for fighting for the project.

Through it all, Commissioner John Munson, a Republican, stood facing the podium, shielding his eyes from the sunshine he was looking into over speakers' shoulders.

Munson - along with Republican Commissioner William J. Wivell - consistently opposed the extension. At one point, Munson alleged that the commissioners were "railroaded" into paying more for the project than they expected.

Tim Magrath, who works for Democratic U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes, addressed the criticism directly during his speech. "If this money was not spent here in Hagerstown, it'd be spent somewhere else," he said.

Still, Munson was among the six waves of public figures and others who took turns pretending to break ground. Ehrlich became a bandleader, counting "1-2-3" for each staged photo.

After Ehrlich's speech, Motz presented him with two "Top Gun" fighter jet jackets, one for each of his sons.

C. William Hetzer, whose construction company has the $17 million contract for the first phase of the project, gave Ehrlich a toy excavator for his son, Drew, who is almost 5.

When Hetzer gave the same toy to U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., Ehrlich called out, "Wait, Joe's not gonna play with that," referring to Bartlett's adult son, a state delegate in Frederick County.

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