Lincoln Co., W.Va., Looks for Other Options for Proposed Airport

Now that federal funding for a proposed regional airport has dried up, the West Virginia Public Port Authority is trying to figure out what to do next.

Authority members voted Thursday to close out two Federal Aviation Administration grants worth slightly more than $1.3 million. The grants were for the first phase of the environmental impact study and benefits cost analysis for the proposed Lincoln County airport.

In an Aug. 6 letter, the FAA said it would not give any more money to the state for the regional airport's study or construction.

The federal agency decided the airport wouldn't save taxpayers as much money as it would cost the government to build the airport.

In their most recent benefit-cost analysis, Port Authority consultants from Earth Tech Inc. predicted that the traveling public would save $1.39 for every $1 the government would spend. But, FAA analysts found the public would only save 75 cents for every $1 in airport construction costs.

"I'm still puzzled by the difference," said Port Authority member Michael Bright.

"He and other board members suggested an FAA employee attend a Port Authority meeting to explain the rationale they used to arrive at their conclusion.

"I think we spent a lot of money, time and sweat equity on this project," Bright said. "It's not been wasted."

He said the state now has better air service and there have been improvements to Yeager Airport.

Port authority members also discussed shifting back to their original vision for the regional airport, which focused on cargo. The vision changed because the FAA didn't pay to build general aviation facilities, said authority member Charles Lanham.

General aviation facilities don't offer commercial flights. Of West Virginia's 35 airports, 27 are general aviation facilities.

Transportation Secretary Fred VanKirk, also the chairman of the Port Authority, suggested members of the group's airport aviation evaluation committee, the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission and the state's airport manager's association meet to discuss future plans for general aviation and how cargo flows in and out of the state.