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Airport critical to county’s economic health

The Lawrence County Airpark has a rich history. John Paul Riddle established it in 1929. Riddle subsequently founded Embry-Riddle Company, one of the largest aviation schools in the world.

The airpark is located just west of Chesapeake on County Road 1, next to the river on 86 acres of property. Riddle, the Huntington Chamber of Commerce, the Huntington Bridge Company and the local pilots’ association contributed money to establish the Lawrence County Airpark.

American Airlines used the facility in the 1930s for passenger operations, utilizing the venerable Douglas DC-3 aircraft. Airmail was sent and received on a daily schedule. Riddle opened a teaching facility for pilots.

Today, LCA averages 42,000 operations per year, about 114 per day. Itinerate operations range between 3,000 and 3,400 per year, roughly 7 percent of total operations. These are people coming to Lawrence County to do business.

Thousands of people have taken their first flight in an aircraft. Many have experienced the thrill of freefall and a parachute. Other operations include training flights and banner tows.

Tri-State Airport in Huntington, W.Va., averages 44 operations per day. LCA is located just outside Tri-State’s control zone. They handle most of the operations at LCA and rely heavily on this traffic count to maintain their terminal radar facility. Huntington radar is essential to airline traffic and the loss of it could doom the commercial traffic into Huntington.

LCA has trained numerous private and commercial pilots. Many of these pilots have served in our military. Others, including myself, have continued on to fly corporate aircraft and for our airlines.

The airpark is one of the few post secondary teaching facilities Lawrence County has to offer. There are currently about 30 students served by eight instructors. Another 70 pilots receive recurrent training each year from this same facility. LCA is the largest training facility for pilots in our Tri-State.

Attitude Aviation is a business located at the airport. It has seven full-time and 3 part-time employees. They are engaged in flight training, aircraft charter, repair service and plane rental.

Various other enterprises have operated from the airport including, parachuting, plane rides, aerial photography, instruction, repair and banner tows. Thirty nine entities rent space from the county, of these 22 of them are Lawrence County residents.

The Federal Aviation Administration makes $150,000 available to the county each year as a 90 percent to 10 percent match. These funds have been used to improve the runway, taxiway, markings, etc.

Every airport has an airport safety zone. Its physical description begins with an elliptical shape on the ground that surrounds the runway. The sides slope upward and away from the edges of the ellipse to form a “bowl” shape that overlays the airport.

The schools, bridges and other structures that underlie this zone all comply with the restrictions set forth by the Federal Aviation Administration. They pose no threat to aviation and aviation poses no threat to these structures.

There are trees protruding into the airport safety zone at each end of the runway. The FAA has deemed these trees to be a hazard to aviation. Numerous attempts have been made over the last twenty years to cut those trees. Payment has been offered to the property owner for the loss of their trees.

The county has attempted to buy a right-of-way to cut the trees and allow the owner to retain ownership of the property. The property owners will not allow the trees to be cut under any circumstances. The attorneys for the county and the property owner have been unable to reach a price that is agreeable to both entities. This forces the county into an eminent domain lawsuit to purchase this property.

The FAA will reimburse the county for all of the expenses incurred acquiring the property and the property itself, if the proper steps were taken in the case. The county stands to gain 46 acres of property at no cost to the county itself.

The property where the airport is situated has an encumbrance on the deed called a reversion clause. The gist of the clause is that if the property ever ceases to be an airport, the property reverts back to its original owners or their heirs.

All of the county investment to date would be lost, if the airport were allowed to be closed. The property is virtually useless to the county for any other purpose with this clause intact.

LCA is financially capable of sustaining itself without county funds. I can think of no other county asset that can make that claim. There are enough monies to pay the utilities, insurance and 10 percent matching funds each year.

Almost $50,000 has been charged to this line item to sustain the eminent domain suit in the last two years causing a cash flow shortage. All of this money will be returned to the county when the lawsuit is concluded.

Every county in Ohio has an airport. Gov. James Rhoades saw this as the very best economic strategy for Ohio and provided funding to make this happen. Lawrence County businesses depend on this facility to conduct business.

We want to be a business friendly community, not give businesses a reason to locate elsewhere. No sustained economic development has ever taken place without an airport.

I would support building a new airport at another location only if it were built and in operation before LCA were closed. An airport of the caliber being suggested would need a minimum of 300 acres.

We would return 86 acres at the current location into taxable property and in turn remove 300 acres from the taxable property list. Acquisition of this acreage would necessitate numerous eminent domain suits.

No business would ever consider selling an asset to make payroll.

These are the questions that we need to answer. Does it make sense to do away with an education facility for our youth? Do we really want to cut jobs and hamper our businesses by taking away a vital piece of infrastructure they need? Do we not want the revenue these transient aircraft bring to our community? Do we want to say no to another $750,000 in FAA grants? Do we want to be the only county in Ohio without an airport?

Urge our commissioners to support the growth of our airport. There are numerous properties in the Charlie Creek area to develop with out destroying an asset that supplies jobs, education, infrastructure, business and tourism to our county.

William Nenni