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Hagerstown airport runway extension open

Officials celebrate completion of $61.8 million project

Officials celebrate completion of $61.8 million project

November 30, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY ? Hagerstown Regional Airport's slogan is "Ready for the Future," but the theme of Friday's ribbon-cutting ceremony for the airport's new runway extension could have been "Acknowledging the Past."

Almost all of the event's 15 speakers thanked the dozens of former local and state officials who they said made the new 7,000-foot runway possible.

"It's an honor to have all of them here," said Airport Manager Carolyn S. Motz. "So many people were a part of this."

Three Maryland governors and three boards of Washington County Commissioners have presided since the runway project began in 1999.

Airport still without pssenger service

U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., said many of those officials "checked their parties at the door" to finish the $61.8 million project, which she said will spur economic development in the county.

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But before offering congratulations, Mikulski brought up a topic that few of the other speakers at the ceremony wanted to mention ? the fact that Hagerstown Regional Airport has not had passenger service since September.

"If each one of us came here in an airplane, we wouldn't need EAS," joked Mikulski, referring to Essential Air Service, the federal subsidy program that had funded commercial service at the airport for years.

The new runway will allow the airport to accommodate fully loaded regional jets, which could fly as far away as Honolulu or Istanbul, Turkey without refueling, Motz said.

That ability, airport officials have argued, will make it easier for the airport to find a commercial carrier to replace Air Midwest, which left in September when the federal subsidy expired.

Mikulski and U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., have pushed a series of bills through Congress in an attempt to revive the subsidy. The latest bill, which would extend the subsidy through September 2008, is being finalized in Congress.

Pocari: State could provide financial incentives

"With this new runway we're going to be able to do so many things, and we plan to fully take advantage of all opportunities," Motz said before the ceremony.

Maryland Transportation Secretary John D. Porcari said after his speech that the state can help bring commercial service back to Hagerstown by offering "financial incentives to the right carrier."

Neither official, however, elaborated on what plans might be in the works to bring a commercial carrier to the airport.

Speakers concentrate on potential runway benefits

Instead, most speakers chose to focus on the benefits the runway will bring to local businesses, which now can fly more cargo to and from the airport.

Hal Lucas of Sierra Nevada, which does military contract work, said the company has expanded its local workforce by the hundreds in anticipation of the new runway.

Bill Hetzer, who runs C. William Hetzer, Inc., which won a contract to do much of the runway work, said the expansion has reinvested millions of local tax dollars into the local economy.

Wayne Alter, chairman of the county's Airport Commission, acknowledged that there has been public criticism of the project, especially since the airport lost its carrier. But he compared the project's opponents to people who argued against building the intersection of I-81 and I-70 in Hagerstown.

"There was furious opposition to that project then, and today we're talking about widening both roads," Alter said. "I think we'll see the same thing here."

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