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Regional airport could benefit county

West Virginia regulators’ decision to seek a new regional airport could improve the economic development potential of Lawrence County, if that state’s leadership presses forward.

Monday, December 31, 2001

West Virginia regulators’ decision to seek a new regional airport could improve the economic development potential of Lawrence County, if that state’s leadership presses forward.

"We favorably support the project," said Pat Clonch, executive director of the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation.

"We know all too well that without a regional airport, economic development will be made much more difficult," Mrs. Clonch said.

When industries look to build a plant, for example, one of the major considerations involves how close is air travel – for both people transport and product transport, she said.

Even Ashland Inc. cited the lack of a larger-sized airport near its Russell, Ky., headquarters as one reason to move to Covington, Ky.

Because so many areas that compete with Lawrence County on an economic development front have larger airports nearby, the proposed West Virginia regional facility will be a benefit, Mrs. Clonch said.

The area needs people movers, yes, but just in time delivery of products must be considered, too, she said.

The LEDC and the Greater Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce have passed resolutions supporting the airport – currently planned in northern Lincoln County off I-64 about 40 miles from the Huntington-Ashland area – and the agencies will continue their support, Mrs. Clonch said.

"It is a West Virginia issue, so the only thing we can do is wait and see what comes out," she added.

The West Virginia Public Port Authority decided to move ahead with the airport Dec. 19. The move came after more than a dozen years of debate.

The key factor, cited by the port authority, was benefit and cost analysis presentation by a consulting firm, which concluded the regional airport would be the best option among several ideas – including splitting commercial service between three airports or just improving the existing two, Charleston’s and Huntington’s.

Under the current port authority plan, the current two airports will remain open for general aviation and National Guard use.

The economic benefit is 1.37 times the cost, which is estimated at more than $330 million, according to the report.

The next step appears to be approval of the plan by West Virginia’s governor and other state leaders.