Sunday, February 19, 2012

Moore airport upgrades prompt outcry from some residents

WHISPERING PINES - The Moore County commissioners appear poised to approve budget ordinances that will allow upgrades at the county airport.

But at least one local group is voicing concerns about the spending at the Moore County Airport and is questioning the airport authority's long-term plans.

Airport Director Ron Maness said he hopes work can start by summer on a 400-foot addition to the runway and a relocation of a localizer antenna, which pilots use for landings. Crews also will cut trees on 12 acres recently purchased by the airport authority.  The county has accepted $3.1 million in grants from the Federal Aviation Administration and the N.C. Department of Transportation for the work. A $344,445 county match is required, money which Maness said will come from an occupancy tax on area hotel rooms.

"The key is that, for the most part, the occupancy tax comes from visitors who come from outside Moore County," Maness said. "We're not taking it out of the pockets of the local taxpayers."   The Moore County Airport is located on 500 acres at N.C. 22 and Airport Road, three miles north of Southern Pines. Twenty-three people work at the airport and about 6,000 small planes take off and land there every year.

Commercial planes haven't landed at the airport since Delta Airlines discontinued service in 2007. An airport task force has been formed to explore re-establishing commercial service.  Maness said the improvements are being made to meet safety standards set by the FAA. Still, he said, attracting a commercial airline is a goal of the airport authority.

"We'd definitely like to have service back in here," he said. "And I think the community would love to have it, too."   The 400-foot extension of the runway, called a displaced threshold, can be used for takeoffs but not for landings, he said. The grade of the land at the end of the runway will also be decreased for safety reasons.

The addition, which is being done on the runway's northeast end, will bring its length to 5,900 feet. Maness said the extension does not change flight paths and will be done within the airport's existing fence line.  But not everyone is happy about the airport's plans and the money needed for the project.

Whispering Pines resident Fred Korb and his son, Dave, have incorporated Taxpayers to Stop Airport Waste LLC to voice their concerns about possible airport expansion and the use of tax money by the airport authority.

The Korbs have been a presence at meetings of the airport authority and the county commissioners in recent months. The airport authority meeting on Tuesday ended with a heated exchange between Dave Korb and board member Bill Bateman.

"We don't want it to be a large commercial airport and we don't want them taking any more liberties with the tax money of the county, state and federal government," Dave Korb said in a phone interview last week. "Our goals are rather simple and they're shared by hundreds of people who have signed our petition and responded to our blog."   Dave Korb said a key concern he has is that a portion of one of the most recent state grants was funded with money from a state highway fund. Money in the highway fund is collected mostly by gasoline taxes.

Richard Walls, director of the state DOT's Division of Aviation, said money from the highway fund can be used to upgrade any transportation infrastructure, not only highways.   Still, the use of the money for the airport makes the Korbs question whether other funds have gone to alternative uses.

Dave Korb was clear about one thing: He and his father don't plan on going away.   "It's going to be really nasty," he said. "The outcome is going to very, very ugly and it's unfortunate because we may take down some people we really respect."

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