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Sale of area airport runs into obstacles

Jun. 14, 2013 @ 12:32 AM

By DAVID E. MALLOY
The Herald-Dispatch
dmalloy@herald-dispatch.com
IRONTON — Lawrence County may not be able to move forward with a proposal to sell the Lawrence County Airpark on County Road 1 and could be forced to pay back $881,281 in federal grants used to make improvements at the small airport west of Chesapeake in the past dozen years.
Several Lawrence County commissioners had planned to meet Thursday in Cincinnati with representatives of North Kenova Development. The company gave the county the land for an airport in the 1930s. A reversionary clause in the deed calls for the property to be deeded back to heirs of the original owners if the property ceases to be used as an airport for a year.
County Commissioner Bill Pratt said one of the attorneys involved couldn’t make the trip so it was canceled. “The meeting is being rescheduled,” Pratt said. “We’ll meet down here in a week or two.”
He has proposed working together with North Kenova Development to market the property to a developer to bring more business and jobs to the community.
Pratt wrote in April to Federal Aviation Administration officials in the Detroit area earlier this year, asking if the county could sell the property. In a response, Marlon D. Pena, program manager for the Detroit airport district office, said any proceeds from a sale are expected to stay with the airport and not the county.
“The FAA has supported proposed development at the airport since 2001,” Pena wrote in a May 31 letter to Pratt. “The airport has received $881,281 in federal grants related to airfield improvements and land acquisition.”
“I plan to ask for clarification on the letter,” Pratt said. “There’s a chance we may not be able to sell it. But I think it’s something we need to look at.”
The county agreed last year to put up $28,618 for a runway lighting rehabilitation project. The existing lighting at the airport does not meet FAA standards. The FAA had agreed to put up $257,560 for the project. However, the county cited budget issues in failing to set aside the local match in its 2013 budget.
Pratt said if the sale were to proceed, the county could pay the FAA back out of proceeds from the sale.
County officials also have looked at several other potential sites for an airport, but haven’t yet found a suitable site, Pratt said.
County Commissioner Les Boggs has concerns about the proposed sale. “I think if the airport closes down, it would be difficult, if not impossible to get another.”
“The FAA is concerned that we have issued a grant to an airport sponsor that has not proceeded in accordance with the project construction schedule and low bidder that was identified in the final grant application,” Pena wrote. “If the Board of Commissioners has elected not to proceed with this project, you will need to send a letter to the FAA returning the grant. Returning the grant will cause the airport to lose $150,000 in federal funding that was included in the grant as those funds have now expired.”

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