Cumberland Times-News

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July 15, 2014

Mineral development group discusses airport issues

KEYSER, W.Va. — Terry Liller, president of the Mineral County Development Authority, indicated during an authority meeting Tuesday that he agrees with Delegate Gary Howell that the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority needs to follow West Virginia law instead of Maryland. The airport authority voted in June to follow former airport attorney Jeff Getty’s recommendation to use Maryland law.

“It really sticks in my craw that we’ve got an airport sitting down there on West Virginia property that is basically controlled by Maryland,” said Liller.

The county doesn’t receive any tax revenue from the airport, Liller further noted

Howell brought up the issue with what state law to follow because there wasn’t proper notification given for the last authority meeting in June.

“That airport has not been following West Virginia’s open meetings laws. It’s located in West Virginia and there is nothing in federal agreement to say that they follow any law other than West Virginia’s,” said Howell. “The reality is that if you look at Maryland’s law they don’t follow Maryland’s either. I think they kind of use that gray area to kind of do some things they want to do them and not the way the law prescribes for either state.”

Ramon Rozas III, airport attorney, stated that the authority is governed by the Maryland Open Meetings Act, not West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings. Howell, however, disagrees with Rozas because under public law by the 105th Congress creating the authority, West Virginia is specifically listed in all references to which state laws will be followed.

There are substantial differences between the Maryland and West Virginia open meetings acts and a difference in the Freedom of Information Act between the two states, according to Rozas.

Also during the meeting, Liller questioned what economic benefit the county received from the autocross at the airport and noted that if it provided an economic benefit then the MCDA could draft a letter asking that the autocross  remain.

 “We don’t want to write a letter and just say we would like it to stay there because we think it’s a good thing. It would be nice if we could have something tangible to say why,” said Liller.

The economic impact of the autocross is minimal to the county because there aren’t any hotels or motels in Wiley Ford, Fort Ashby, Short Gap, Ridgeley or Carpendale, according to Ridgeley Mayor Lynn Carr. 

For the past 11 years, the autocross has made a $3-million impact on the economy.

“The bulk of the benefits go to Maryland,” said Howell.

The event draws 75 to 100 participants and 400 spectators per day, according to Bill Herbaugh, secretary for National Road Autosport.

Sen. George Edwards recently sent a letter to Leon Hinkle, acting airport chair, indicating he had received concerns from people who want the autocross to continue and asked the airport authority to take another look at the issue.

 During a special meeting in June, the airport authority voted to deny the  National Road Autosport LLC request to hold the annual autocross event on the airport’s operational grounds. The authority agreed to allow the NRA to use property outside the operational grounds. The airport made the decisions based on concerns about damage to the hangars and the possibility of the races jeopardizing Federal Aviation Administration funds for the runway expansion project.

The airport authority sent a letter to Sen. Ben Cardin asking him for clarification regarding FAA funding. In a response to Cardin, Michael Huerta, FAA administrator, states that, “the FAA doesn’t encourage non-aeronautical uses of an airport operation area for many reasons. ... However, there are circumstances when a temporary partial airport closure will provide benefits to the local community and the airport without a significant adverse impact to the aviation community.”

Huerta asked the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport to provide information regarding the autocross and indicated that he would ask Washington Airports District Office to assist in developing the information. He said that if the airport is willing to provide the information that “it is possible that a solution can be found.”

“Airports have racing events and non-aeronautical events all over the country. There were eight autocrosses listed in the nation, six of them were being held at FAA airports,” said Howell. “I understand their (airport authority’s) concerns but their concerns don’t match up with the reality of what is going on out there.”

 Howell recently wrote a letter to Huerta asking if the airport is granted permission by the FAA to hold the event if it would indeed jeopardize future FAA funding.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

 

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