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"Regional airport campaign to trigger PR war"



Thursday, July 27, 2000

Regional airport campaign to trigger PR war
Yeager supporters critical of $620,000 Port Authority plan
By Greg Stone
Charleston (WV) Gazette


The people who run Yeager Airport blasted the state Public Port Authority's
plans to spend $620,000 on a public relations campaign, then vowed to wage
their own, cent for cent.

State authority money will come from an anticipated $2.4 million grant from
the Federal Aviation Administration.

That money was apparently nailed down Tuesday, when a West Virginia
delegation met in Washington, D.C., with Paul Galis, the FAA's deputy
associate administrator for airports. In a news release, Galis said the
request would probably be granted soon.

The state authority intends to spend $620,000 on "public outreach." Boiled
down, it's an attempt to sway public opinion on the 10-year-old question of
whether to build a $260 million regional airport.

Yeager's governing board met Wednesday at the airport to discuss fallout
from the news.

"It's very questionable, using public dollars to influence the outcome of a
levy election," said Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, an
outspoken regional airport opponent who addressed the board. "Well, we don't
know that they're going to have a levy election. They haven't said how
they'll fund it."

Construction of a regional airport would likely draw the majority of air
traffic from Yeager and airports in Huntington and Parkersburg. The state
Public Port Authority is leading the charge to see it built in Lincoln
County.

Carper said Yeager officials would have no option but to use some of their
$2.1 million in savings to fight the campaign. Former local TV newsman
George Manahan handles public relations for Yeager.

"It'll be the most disgraceful waste of public dollars in the state of West
Virginia, but what choice do you have?" Carper asked. Carper maintains that
the loss of Charleston's airport will mean dire economic consequences for
Kanawha County.

Carper and Yeager director Rick Atkinson point out that the state authority
took no board vote or had no formal public discussion before applying for
the grant.

Member Priscilla Haden made a motion to have Yeager lawyers investigate the
legality of the planned expenditure and whether the state authority violated
the state's open meetings law. Members supported her motion.

Yeager members say it was unfair not to give them and affected property
owners in Lincoln County a chance to speak against the grant proposal.

"When you do stuff outside the public view, I guess it's designed to take
people by surprise," Atkinson said.

State authority member Mike Bright acknowledged that no public vote was
taken on the grant proposal. Bright said he considered the deal part of the
ordinary duties of executive director Bill Jackson and his assistant.

"I don't know that there was any thought to it," said Bright. "This was
routine business as the port authority working a project. You don't need
board approval to make a request of the FAA."

Bright said Yeager officials have already used plenty of their money in
fighting the regional airport, revenues produced from public use of the
airport.

"That hasn't come out of the board members' pockets," he said. "That's the
pot calling the kettle black. "

John Brown, a former member of Gov. Cecil Underwood's administration, will
chiefly decide how the $620,000 will be spent. Brown has been hired to head
up PR for the state authority.

The grant also includes $900,000 to recommend uses for current airports if a
new one is built; $379,000 for economic impact studies; and $800,000 for
"owner representation services."

The latter category represents the latest contract with Kimley-Horn
Associates, a North Carolina consulting firm that has done numerous studies
for the port authority.

This time around, Bright said, Gary Garlow of Kimley-Horn is being paid to
supervise the hiring of other "subject matter specialists."

Bright said Garlow would be retained and other consultants brought on as
needed. Yeager officials have criticized the constant presence of
Kimley-Horn, saying contracts should be more openly bid.

West Virginia's contingent to Washington on Tuesday included acting
Transportation Secretary Samuel Beverage; Lloyd Jackson, D-Lincoln; Port
Authority director Bill Jackson; member Mike Bright; and Gary Garlow of
Kimley-Horn, a North Carolina consulting firm.

In other developments:

 Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Reps. Bob Wise and Nick Joe Rahall wrote letters
supporting the grant proposal.

 Yeager supporters attacked the regional airport on a new ground Wednesday.
They say landfills are too close to the Lincoln County site.

Federal law says landfills are not to be built within six miles of an
airport. Birds scavenging trash can cause accidents.

Assistant Yeager director Tim Murnahan displayed a map that he said showed a
landfill within three miles of the site.

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