The Board of County Commissioners met in front of a packed room Thursday afternoon for a highly anticipated Carroll County Regional Airport discussion.
The previous board of commissioners made a master plan that included the expansion of the airport. The estimated $74 million expansion includes the purchase of 13 acres of land and an increase in the size of the runway.
Simply put, the decision is whether to expand the airport so that it can accommodate increased traffic of larger planes (C3 planes) such as corporate jets, or to remain a C2 airport that can continue to accommodate smaller planes such as single engine planes. At the very least, the current runway will require upgrades in 2017 to the tune of $5 million ($125,000 of which Carroll County will have to pay).
According to a previous , if Carroll County decides to move forward with the planned expansion, the county would ultimately pay for 2.5 percent of the $74 million. Ninety-five percent would be funded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the other 2.5 percent would be paid for by the state.
Community members weighed in at the beginning of the meeting. Several residents support the opinion of Silver Run resident James Graham who believe that the airport will not benefit most of the county residents.
"The airport expansion is using tax payer money to benefit a relatively few number of people, that aren't the tax payers," Graham said. "The idea of trying to get business to come by putting money into infrastructure has not panned out across the country, and the costs that are incurred are seldom recouped."
But there were also proponents of the plan in attendance. Barbara Biller is the president of Intellitech and the chair of Carroll County Economic Development Commission, which serves as the advisory board to the commissioners.
Biller said that the Economic Development Commission, which has wide representation in the county, unanimously voted in favor of the airport expansion.
"We have studied the airport expansion effort two times in the last three years and we have unanimously felt that the commissioners should move forward with the expansion project," Biller said. "This project offers short term construction jobs and long term higher paying jobs."
Surdex Corporation, which provides geothermal data services, announced a proposal at a June meeting to build a 30,000 square foot facility at the airport should the expansion move forward. The facility would be used to consolidate the business' four locations.
Biller added that part of the reason Knorr Brake Company decided to expand their headquarters in Carroll County was due to the possibility of an airport expansion.
As they have done in the past two public meetings, the commissioners explored several airport options, one of which is just an update of the current runway as FAA standards dictate that the current runway would have to be resurfaced around 2017.
Deputy Director of Public Works, Jeff Topper, said that if Carroll County resurfaced the current runway, it would cost about $5 million, approximately $125,000 of which the County would have to pay. The FAA would cover the remaining cost.
The commissioners have also explored costs and benefits associated with moving forward with the planned expansion project. According to Commissioner Roush, the FAA is offering funds through the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). He said that the FAA is interested in supporting this expansion project because regional airports can help relieve some of the general aviation congestion from bigger airports (such as BWI). He also said that the FAA funds these projects for safety and access reasons.
But there are time constraints that the commissioners must consider as they make their decision. According to Roush, the environmental impact study that was done to determine if the expansion was feasible does not expire, but the findings of the study expire April 8.
The study took more than a year to complete and cost more than half a million dollars. Additionally, the environmental impact study that was done was only relevant for expansion to a C3 airport, if the commissioners decide to do a lesser project, another economic impact study will be required.
Roush said that the FAA will not fund any airport projects that are not specified in the master plan. Since the airport expansion is currently in Carroll County's master plan, if the county decided to do a project other than the expansion (such as just the airport runway resurfacing project), then it would require a whole new master plan in order to receive federal funds.
The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the airport decision next Thursday, Jan. 26.
Watch the airport discussion meeting on the Carroll County government website.