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Harrietstown officials ask FAA about airport closure

December 23, 2009
By CHRIS KNIGHT, Enterprise Senior Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - If the town of Harrietstown wanted to close the Adirondack Regional Airport in Lake Clear, the town would have to stop accepting federal funds for the facility and continue operating it for another 20 years, before it could be legally shut down.

That's what town officials were told last week during a meeting with representatives of the Federal Aviation Administration, according to town Supervisor Larry Miller.

Although the current town board has no plans to shut down the airport, Miller and Deputy Supervisor Barry Defuria had promised to ask FAA officials what steps they'd have to take to close the town-run facility during a budget hearing last month. Several residents at the hearing were upset with a double-digit tax levy increase, much of which was blamed on a drop-off in revenue at the airport, and suggested the town consider shutting down the facility unless it can get more financial support from neighboring townships and Essex and Franklin counties.

But town officials feared that if the airport was closed or no longer provided commercial passenger service, they may have to pay back a portion of the $12 million in federal funds that have been used to upgrade the facility.

Town and airport officials traveled to Long Island last week to outline their five-year capital improvement plan to the FAA. At the end of the meeting, they asked about closing the airport, although FAA officials were expecting the question, Miller said.

"They knew about it," he said. "One of the senior guys from the FAA said 'we understand you guys are talking about closing the airport.' Somebody from Saranac Lake, I don't know who, had apparently sent them clippings about it, so they were prepared for the question."

If the airport was to be shut down, town officials were told that they wouldn't have to pay back any of the federal funds the facility has received. Instead, Miller said a majority of the board would have to approve a resolution telling the FAA the town will no longer accept federal funds for the airport.

"After that, the town would have to operate and maintain the airport with no federal or state funding for a period of 20 years before we could legally close the doors," Miller said.

The lack of federal funding would mean the airport would not be able to maintain commercial passenger service, which is currently subsidized through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Essential Air Service program. It also means some of the airport's current staff would have to be laid off, Miller said.

"The minute you don't get any federal funding, you can't operate it the way its been operated," Miller said. "It would probably be a gradual process, but we'd have to keep the doors open for 20 years to complete that legal obligation."

Miller said the information they received only came from conversations with FAA officials; the town has asked the agency to put it in writing.

While town officials asked about closing the airport, it's clear they have no plans to do so right now.

"At this point, from talking to all the members of the town board, they're not inclined to close the airport," Miller said.

The town had expected $1.4 million in jet fuel revenues this year but has only collected $873,000 as of this week. The decrease has been blamed on a drop-off in private and corporate jet traffic at the airport, especially this summer. In next year's budget, the town cut airport expenses by $418,000 and is expecting $411,000 less in revenue.

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Capital projects

The town board signed off on the five-year capital improvement plan for the airport Monday night.

The plan includes $765,000 in projects for 2010, although the town's share would be $19,125. The town is planning to update its wildlife management plan, conduct a drainage study, replace a front-end loader and design an expansion of the town's aircraft rescue and fire fighting building. The expansion of the building itself, which would cost $2.3 million, is the only project on the town's wish list for 2011.

While the federal funding isn't guaranteed, the FAA approved the town's capital improvement plan last week.

Miller said it's important to continue to upgrade the airport.

"It is a viable service to the community and has a $15 million economic impact on the Tri-Lakes," he said.

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Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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