Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Airport official says charter doesn't block proposed sale of Braden Airpark

While the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority has given itself until October before it considers selling Braden Airpark, Executive Director Charles Everett said Monday Northampton County has no authority to block the sale.

The authority must pay $16 million by 2015 after losing a lengthy court battle over land adjacent to Lehigh Valley International Airport. In an effort to cut back on expenses and increase revenue, Executive Director Charles Everett recommended the authority sell Braden Airpark in Forks Township.

Walt Speck, a former member of the authority's board of governors, challenged the plan last month at a Northampton County Council committee meeting. Under its charter, the authority is tasked with owning and operating its three airports, including Braden Airpark, he noted. How could it sell Braden, he asked, without both counties' approval to alter the charter?

The question sent lawyers for both sides back to review the LNAA's articles of incorporation. Monday, Everett said authority solicitor Robert M. Donchez "believes we would be able to sell the airpark without the county's approval," Everett said. He declined to elaborate.

An email to Donchez seeking further reasoning was not immediately returned. 

County council solicitor Phil Lauer said he is still reviewing the matter but would offer his opinion at Northampton County Council's meeting today. Mike Alpago of the county solicitor's office said he is still reviewing the articles of incorporation.

According to a 1994 amendment of the authority's articles of incorporation, the LNAA shall acquire, hold, construct, improve, maintain and operate buildings and property so it can produce revenue to own and operate Lehigh Valley International Airport, Queen City Airport and Braden Airpark.

The sale proposal has been derided by local pilots, and Northampton County Council members questioned the reasoning behind the move. It's believed the sale would only net the authority about $1 million, which would not make a serious impact on the debt.

Braden is the only public general aviation airstrip in the county and is the only public facility in the Lehigh Valley for experimental aircraft. Selling the airpark would end community outreach programs the authority should be embracing as smaller airlines abandon Lehigh Valley International Airport, said county Councilman Tom Dietrich.

“Aren’t you being counterproductive and still leaving you with a whole lot of debt?” Dietrich asked.
LNAA board member Bill Berger said Braden was profitable until Moyer Aviation Inc., which offered the flight lessons and charter flights, left in February after 16 years because of the uncertainty surrounding the airpark's future. Everett has disputed the claim, arguing Moyer's lease did not offset the airpark's annual $160,000 debt service.

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Braden Airpark  (N43), Easton, Pennsylvania

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