By John McVey
MARTINSBURG – The Eastern Regional Airport Authority has received a $150,000 grant through the Federal Aviation Administration’s Airport Improvement Program that will go toward paying off a loan to buy the so-called Howard property, Rick Wachtel, chairman of the Airport Authority, announced at the authority’s meeting Tuesday morning.
The former Howard Enterprises’ four-acre parcel is located on Kelly Island Road across from the 157th Army National Guard armory and contains 22 airplane hangars, Airport Authority Chairman Rick Wachtel said during an earlier interview.
The company was a through-the-fence business. “Through the fence” is a term referring to businesses located off airport property, but adjacent to airport property with direct access to airport facilities, like taxiways and runways.
“Through-the-fence properties have access, but no security,” Wachtel said earlier. “The FAA has directed all airports to acquire these properties and secure them. And the FAA has made funds available – $150,000 a year – to reimburse expenses.”
The Airport Authority got a loan from City National Bank for $350,000 to buy the Howard property. The authority closed on the property in December 2010.
Betty Howard was the owner of the property. She is the widow of Russ Howard, who was the longtime chairman of the Airport Authority.
Additionally, the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission has given the Airport Authority a 10 percent matching grant, or $15,000, to go with the FAA funds.
With these payments, there will be about $30,000 remaining in interest that must be paid before the end of the year. The FAA and WVAC grants cannot be applied to interest on loans to buy property, Wachtel saidafter the meeting.
When the loan is paid off, this will free up about $43,000 in revenues each year starting next year that the Airport Authority gets inrental fees for the hangars on the property.
That will almost replace the $45,000 the Airport Authority was getting from a joint-use agreement with the National Guard Bureau for the 167th Airlift Wing’s use of the airport. The payment accounted for about 20percent of the authority’s annual operating budget.
The National Guard Bureau is the federal agency that handles agreements with civil aviation airports for the use of their facilities by Air National Guard units.
When a five-year joint-use agreement between the Airport Authority and the National Guard Bureau that annually paid the authority $45,000 expired, the Bureau offered a new agreement for $1 a year for five years. After several months of negotiations, the Airport Authority signed the new agreement.
Upon the Airport Authority’s request, the Martinsburg City Council and the Berkeley County Council each agreed to contribute $22,500 this fiscal year to make up for the lost joint-use agreement payment.
However, Wachtel said in a telephone interview Thursday that he would like to see the $43,000 used for future through-the-fence acquisitions, which the FAA has strongly urged the Airport Authority to do,adding there are several through-the-fence properties at the Eastern Regional Airport.
“The authority members have not voted to proceed, but I hope they will,” Wachtel said. “The FAA is pushing nationwide to secure airports and it’s to our benefit to cooperate with the FAA. They fund us tremendously.”
He does not envision the Airport Authority not continuing to request the city and the county to contribute $22,500 each.
“Continuing the payments would give us leeway to make through-the-fence acquisitions,” Wachtel said.