County looks at airport authority

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 9, 2002

We need help, and we are running out of time.

That was the message operators of the Lawrence County Airpark delivered to the Lawrence County Commission Thursday.

Marie Phillips of Attitude Aviation, fixed based operator of the airpark, said the facility needs to improve its runway to attract more and larger airplanes, and could get grants to do so. But trees on adjacent, privately owned property at the east end of the runway would hamper improvement efforts.

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"This (the airpark) could be a real opportunity for economic growth," Phillips said. "The maintenance operations at Tri-State Airport have closed, but some airplanes won't land here. To get those planes in we have to make it safer for them."

The trees are between 100 and 150 feet tall. Phillips said the owner of the trees has indicated he does not want to cut them.

"People who fly in and out of the airpark all the time are used to it," Whitt said. "But those who aren't used to it don't want to fly over those trees and try to land."

Phillips said if the runway is repaved, it would also have to be restriped. The new markings on the runway must be in accordance with federal safety guidelines, and the height of the trees would mean the new marking would be placed to adjust for the height of the trees.

Phillips and Attitude Aviation President Nelson Whitt want the commission to either enact zoning ordinances and force the property owner to cut the trees, or create an airport authority and give the responsibility to the newly formed agency.

Phillips said the airport could get both a $415,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant and a $100,000 Ohio Department of Transportation grant to improve the runway.

"Both the FAA and ODOT consider the airpark a priority," Phillips said. "We may be allowed to use the state money as matching funds for the federal grant."

Phillips said the FAA money could be used to buy the property from the property owner, or

could be used to cut the trees.

Commissioners expressed concern that if they create an airport authority, that new entity may conduct financial business such as obtain grants, and any bad decisions could come back to haunt the commission.

Commissioners did agree to set up a meeting with representatives for Attitude Aviation, the Lawrence County Prosecutor and others to determine what action to take to help the airpark.