Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 15, 2012

New leadership on the horizon

Mercer County Airport Authority seeking one Democrat candidate

PRINCETON — People who are interested in the Mercer County Airport’s future are now coming forward to be considered for a place on the Mercer County Airport Authority.

The Mercer County Commission had the reappointment of two of the authority’s current members, Charles Peters and Joe Coburn, county commission president, on its July 10 agenda, but this action did not take place after County Commissioner Jay Mills moved to table it. The commission has invited individuals interested in serving on the airport authority’s board of directors to apply.

Letters of interest and recommendations have started arriving at the county commission.

“We have received two letters from people who are interested, some phone calls and some suggestions from one current board member,” said Vicky Reed, county coordinator.

Charlie Cole, a Bluefield businessperson who is the newest member of the airport authority, said he suggested five local business operators and physicians who are also pilots.

“I think pilots have a good perspective for the airport authority,” Cole said. “Pilots are the people who use the airport.”

Cole, who is also a pilot, said he did not know if any of the people he has suggested would want to serve on the authority, but individuals with business experience would be welcome. Like a business, an airport needs customers and revenue.

Commercial air service ended at the Mercer County Airport in November 2007 after Colgan Air in Manassas, Tenn. discontinued its operations there. In August 2006, the U.S. Department of Transportation terminated the airport’s eligibility for a federal essential air service subsidy. The subsidy was used to help fund air carriers willing to provide service to rural areas.

The federal government has not been funding commercial operations at airports that are within a certain radius of another airport, Mills said.

“That’s one of the reasons it’s going to be tough to get commercial air service,” he said. “There are not enough people to ride the planes. We’re starting to get some applicants (for the airport authority) and I would like to get more. I’d like to make as wise a choice as we can.”

During the recent county commission meeting, Mills stated that operating the airport costs the county a great deal of money. He later estimated that the county spent more than $100,000 annually on the airport. One idea he voiced was to sell the airport, but he later said that he was not sure that the county commission could take that action.

“But I do know it’s costing the county an awful lot of money. Hopefully the (airport) board can get together and do something to bring money in,” Mills said.

One seat is open on the airport authority’s board, said Commissioner Mike Vinciguerra. One member must be a county commissioner. The current board has two Republicans and two Democrats. Since Charles Peters is a Democrat, the person replacing him would have to be a Democrat, Vinciguerra said. This mix is set up by the state code.

Under Chapter 8, Article 2A, 8-29A-2 of the West Virginia Code, members of county airport authorities will be appointed by county commissions.

“One member of the authority shall be a member of the county commission: provided, however, that of the remaining four members of the authority no more than two members shall be members of the same political party,” according to the West Virginia Code.

The West Virginia Code can be read on the West Virginia Legislature web site.

“I would like to see someone who is a pilot,” Vinciguerra said of any new authority member. “We’ve got one right now, Charlie Cole, and he’s taken a great interest in it. That’s just me, personally, talking.”

Vinciguerra said he did not see selling the airport as an option.

“In my opinion, no. We need to keep it open and get more traffic, more people flying in and buying fuel. I don’t know if we’ll get commercial service. The airport needs to stay open and be functional,” he said.

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