The Charles County Chamber of Commerce has established as part of its Economic Development Committee a task force to help promote Maryland Airport in Indian Head, a potential economic hub in a section of the county long-starved for such activity.
The task force’s primary mission is “creating awareness for the synergy this airport will bring” given its proximity to Washington, D.C., Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head and National Harbor, Chairwoman Evelyn Hungerford said. “All of that right there makes for a successful economic engine.”
In addition to engineering firms and businesses that perform services on airplanes, airports tend to attract tourism industry staples, like hotels and transportation services, Hungerford said.
“All the research from other airports that have been enhanced show it is a driver. It brings small business and larger businesses,” she added. “There are so many things that wrap around an airport, an air park.”
The airport was one of the projects specifically identified last year when the economic development committee was first created, chamber President Craig J. Renner said.
“We think it can be a leading engine for economic development in the county,” he said.
Gil Bauserman, the airport’s owner, said he hopes the chamber’s involvement will help move the project along more quickly than before.
“I appreciate the help because I’ve been working on this thing for 20 years, and I’ve been doing it all myself. I’m getting old,” said Bauserman, who recently turned 70. “I think the task force is a good tool to inform the public of what this airport could bring to the county.”
The expanded runway is scheduled to open in early July, about a month later than the time frame Bauserman gave to the county commissioners in early April.
The delay was caused by an “obstruction issue” that also will result in the runway opening at 3,750 feet long, 550 feet shorter than originally intended, Bauserman said. He still plans to go through with the full expansion, but it will require federal approvals that he expects will push the project through to fiscal 2015.
Bauserman said he’s already getting calls from people interested in knowing when the expanded runway will be open, including an executive with MGM, the frontrunner to land a deal to build an $800 million Las Vegas-style casino at National Harbor in Oxon Hill.
The Maryland Aviation Administration anticipates the casino could quadruple the number of annual flights to and from the airport from 12,000 to 48,000.
But EDC Chairwoman Sue Greer said she believes the airport’s potential extends beyond National Harbor — as the closest commercial airport to Washington, D.C., outside of the restricted flight zone established following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, it could make a prime landing spot for those headed downtown, she said.
“It’s exciting for us on the western section [of the county] because I feel personally we’ve been ignored,” said Hungerford, who lives in Indian Head. Her husband, Vince, is president of the Western Charles County Business Association. “[The region] has so much potential, and it hasn’t reached it.”
But in order to accommodate any increased traffic, the airport will need to be hooked up to public sewer, she added.
“Every day I’m looking at that ditch where the sewer can go,” she said, referring to the open trench intended to house sewer lines for the stalled Indian Head Science and Technology Park, which sits near the airport.
Another of the major issues the chamber wants to examine is the zoning around the airport to ensure it encourages appropriate uses, Renner said.
There are many uses that are simply incompatible with an airport, given the various noise, safety and airspace concerns, he said. For example, the zoning around the airport currently allows for nursery schools and day cares, “probably not something you want near the airport,” Renner added.
The failure of a local entity to specifically tailor surrounding land use can often be a “big threat” to airports, said Greer, an attorney whose specialties include land use. A study would be needed to identify the best possible zoning for Maryland Airport, she added.
Renner described the chamber’s efforts to promote the airport as a piece of its overall economic development initiative.
“What we’re trying to do as a chamber is be more assertive, be more supportive of economic development efforts in the county,” he said, mentioning the planned business incubator in Waldorf and a new program the chamber intends to launch in the fall in cooperation with the public school system and College of Southern Maryland that will teach middle and high school students how to start their own businesses.
“We’re trying to foster a sense a entrepreneurship,” he said. “I think everyone agrees there needs to be a broader employment base in the county.”