Thursday, September 19, 2013

Northampton County Council willing to fight potential sale of Braden Airpark (N43), Easton, Pennsylvania

Northampton County Council members indicated at a committee meeting tonight they are willing to enter a legal dogfight to prevent a potential sale of Braden Airpark.

The council’s finance committee unanimously recommended passing a resolution calling on County Executive John Stoffa to file a lawsuit against the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority if it tries to sell the 80-acre Forks Township facility without the county’s go-ahead.

Braden Airpark is part of the authority’s core mission, opined council solicitor Phil Lauer. Any proposed sale would require Northampton and Lehigh counties to amend the authority’s articles of incorporation to change that, he said.

“The authority has a specific purpose, which includes the ownership and operation of … Braden Airpark,” Lauer wrote in a memo.

County solicitor Dan Spengler generally agreed but was more cautious. Charles Everett, the authority’s executive director, has said the airpark is losing money and the county cannot force the authority to operate at a loss, Spengler said.

Everett has said the authority must sell the general aviation airstrip in order to finance its $16 million court payment due in 2015 from a lost lawsuit. He has previously said the authority would not need either county’s approval to move forward on any deal.

The authority is scheduled to restart sale considerations in October after a four-month delay. The LNAA is seeking $3.5 million for the sale, according the Save Braden Airpark Initiative Group, a band of local pilots hoping to save the airpark.

The group is discussing ways to purchase the property and maintain it as an airpark, and it asked the county to provide the authority with a $5,000 monthly subsidy for Braden in the meantime. Council members rejected the proposal during the meeting, but Councilman Bob Werner said council would likely support a sale to the group.

With the authority’s bankruptcy a real possibility, council President John Cusick said it may be necessary for both counties to subsidize the authority to keep it afloat. Councilman Tom Dietrich questioned the wisdom of bailing out authority leadership, saying the financial problems they are facing are largely self-made.

“Now we’re going to subsidize their stupidity?” he asked.

Councilman Scott Parsons reminded council they have other, long-term options to change the authority’s direction. About half of the authority’s board of governors are appointed by county council, he said.

“When a member comes due and they didn’t do what we asked them to do, we have to change that member,” he said.

Stoffa did not speak during the meeting, but earlier in the day he said he was on the fence about suing the LNAA. Forcing the authority to keep Braden could damage its bottom line and private ownership could bring positives to the table.

“I really haven’t decided yet,” Stoffa said.

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