Friday, November 08, 2013

Airport authority requests Northampton County subsidize Braden Airpark (N43) in 2014

The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority has asked Northampton County to subsidize Braden Airpark next year as the authority struggles to keep its finances in order.

In a letter addressed to Northampton County Council President John Cusick, Charles Everett, executive director of the authority, said the Forks Township facility has never been profitable. The trend is not expected to change next year with a projected loss of $250,751 in 2014. The figure does not include needed capital improvement projects, which could climb up to $2.2 million, he wrote.
"Please let us know if Northampton County can provide financial assistance to the authority," Everett writes in the letter, dated today. 

The authority has openly discussed selling the Forks Township facility for months as it tries to pay off the remaining $16 million from a court order from a lost lawsuit. The authority is seeking $3.5 million for the property, according to the Save Braden Initiative Group, a grass-roots organization working to keep the site as a general aviation airstrip.

The authority is prepared to sell 253 acres in Allen Township for $9.6 million to lessen the upcoming court payments.

The letter does not request a specific amount of funding. Councilman Robert Werner said he, Everett and LNAA Board Chairman Tony Iannelli met earlier in the week and found potential ways to cut projected costs at the airstrip. 

"I'm not going to sit here and say Northampton County is going to subsidize everything," Werner told the authority officials during an economic development committee meeting tonight.

Among the savings Werner listed were bringing in a fixed-base operator to replace the departed Moyer Aviation, refurbishing the terminal at the airpark instead of razing it and getting software to operate fuel pumps after hours. Werner said the airpark has the cheapest fuel in the area, and the software will allow helicopter pilots more opportunities to bring their business there.

"We need to come back with a tighter plan that we can live with," Iannelli agreed.

Councilwoman Peg Ferraro questioned what the county would get in return for aiding the authority, which has butted heads with the council in recent months. The council has vocally opposed the potential sale of the airpark and criticized the authority over the management of its facilities. 

"It would require some sort of ... oversight to ensure this mess doesn't happen again," Ferraro said, suggesting the county form an advisory committee to overlook the authority.

Everett and Iannelli agreed something could be negotiated if the county agreed to provide financial assistance. Iannelli also made it clear the authority has received the message.

"We hear today that you want this airpark to remain open. These people want this airpark to remain open," he said, gesturing to members of the Save Braden group in attendance. 

Councilman Tom Dietrich provided the lone open dissent to the request. He questioned why the county would invest in an organization that has mismanaged the airpark and created its own financial struggles.

"Maybe we should not be subsidizing bad mistakes," he said.

In response to Dietrich's questioning, Everett said the authority has not asked Lehigh County commissioners for a 2014 subsidy.


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