Huron County Airport Grant Grounded AOPA Weighs In


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Huron County Airport Grant Grounded AOPA Weighs In

By Scott Seitz

September 11, 2011 - Huron County Airport Authority member J.W. Kelley just shook his head from side to side during Tuesday's board meeting.

Kelley couldn't hide his disappointment as earlier in the day, the county commissioners refused to sign a federal grant application that could have brought about $400,000 into the county.

"They (commissioners) are just not very interested or very caring," Kelley said. "They could have at least come out and faced the board."

Kelley said there's not much the board can do now -- "Until we're either off the board or the commissioners lose their jobs," he said.

If the grant had been approved, airport officials were planning to use those funds and possibly future funds for tree removal, ramp and taxiway improvements and the eventual moving off the runway so the airport, Summit Motorsports Park and county could all benefit. 

"We'll review the plans," said Dennis Sokol, airport board president. "But for this fiscal year, the timeclock is over." Mark Haynes Construction, a local firm, would have been awarded the winning bid for the tree removal and ramp work if the grant were approved. 

"Hopefully, next year, there will be more money to request," Sokol said. "Possibly in the several millions." "We're going up against a wall there," Kelley said. "We're spending a lot of time putting our feet in the mud." 

"You have to," Sokol told Kelley, adding now that the airport board has identified the risks and hazards at the airport and the commissioners have refused to sign the request, the liability falls to the county. Sokol added the airport is self-sustaining, receiving no county funds this year. "We're ahead $4,400," he said. "We're going to end up in better shape at the end of this year than last year." Sokol knew the commissioners could refuse to sign the grant application.


"That's their right," he said. "Though their reasons are faulty. ?The irony in this is by not signing the grant application they are making it harder to sell the airport because they are not fulfilling the grant obligations," Sokol said. "One of the criteria will be, how hard have you worked to fulfill them in the past." Below is a letter sent to Huron County Commissioners by AOPA. 

September 6,2011 

The Honorable Gary W. .Bauer The Honorable Joe Hintz

The Honorable Larry J. Silcox Huron County Commissioners 180 Milan Avenue

Norwalk, OH 44857 

Dear Commissioners: 

On behalf of the 12,280 Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association members in Ohio and the rest of our more than 400,000 members nationwide we write to express our deep disappointment that you chose to not sign the airport grant application before you for Norwalk Huron County Airport. Despite your decision not to accept these funds that are critical to the continued safety of operations at the airport, we trust you understand your continuing obligations.  As the airport sponsor, you are required by your agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to continue to operate the airport under the current grant assurances and we expect that you will do that. We are certain that the FAA expects that too and will be watching closely to ensure such compliance. 

In large part, our disappointment stems from your willful disregard of tae opportunity to maintain both the airport and the racing strip. Despite many examples of instances in which airports and motor sports venues operate compatibly, and even ignoring the current airport layout and master plans that show you the path to this compatibility, you chose to diminish your community by seeking closure of the airport, and waste the significant public investment made over many years on this important infrastructure. 

It is unusual these days that a County would turn down an opportunity to leverage federal, state and private funds at no cost to them to create local jobs and economic activity. It is even more striking that this would take place in a county with one of the highest unemployment rates in Ohio! Even as you turn down these funds, it is important to recognize that you have not absolved yourself of the obligation to maintain and operate the airport. Until such time as the County receives permission from the FAA to close the airport and sell the land, it must keep it open and operating in a safe manner. Now, without this grant, the County itself will have to find the funds for the necessary obstruction removal to maintain the safety of the airport and keep the pavement in good condition for aircraft and cars alike. 

As we advised in our previous letter, it is a long and arduous process to close an airport. In the past, you have accepted funds not just for airport improvements, which created an obligation that expires after twenty years. You also accepted funding to purchase land, which creates a perpetual obligation to keep the airport open. The principal requirement for gaining permission for the County to close the airport is to demonstrate how closure will create a benefit to civil aviation by closing down the Norwalk Huron County Airport. To do so, you must petition the FAA's Associate Administrator for Airports and you must provide detailed justification. We note that it is extremely rare for the FAA to actually close an airport that has received federal funding, on the other side, you will have AOPA and the entire aviation community opposing your petition. 

You have chosen a difficult path, and it is unlikely that you will receive permission to close the airport at all, and certainly not in the near future. We hope you will pause from this action, and reconsider your decision. Should you do so, we stand ready to go with you to the FAA to seek approval of your grant application.

John L. Collins Manager
Airport Policy 

Mr. Dennis Sokol, Chairman, Norwalk-Huron County Airport Authority Mr. Alex Ersldne, Program Manager, FAA Detroit Airports District Office Mrs. Debbie Lake-Wagner, AOPA Airport Support Network Volunteer 5A1 (see FAA Initiatives At Ohio Airport Compromised Under GOP And DOT Pressure)

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