Airport Lacks Funds to Buy W.P. Homes
Airport officials say they lack the money needed to purchase 14 homes on Highland Drive in Whispering Pines.
Those homes are in a restricted runway area, and the FAA has told the Airport Authority that they must be purchased to meet federal safety guidelines.
Airport officials made the statements during a called meeting Wednesday between Airport Manager Gary Barnum and Airport Authority members Don Delauter and Mike Nash, the Whispering Pines Village Council and residents at the Country Club of Whispering Pines.
Nash said purchasing the homes was a lower priority for the FAA, and without FAA funds, the Airport Authority would be unable to buy them.
"We're not going to get FAA money," Nash said. "They will always have more priority projects."
Delauter said it was the Airport Authority's intention to purchase the homes when they came on the market if money was available.
"It is not our intention to condemn those homes and force people to move," he said.
Skeptical residents asked to have that promise in writing. They didn't get an answer.
Communication -- or a lack thereof -- between the airport and the village and its residents dominated the discussion. Some said the lack of communications fostered an attitude of "we vs. them."
"We feel like you're going to put up a wall and say, 'to hell with you, we are going to do what we want,'" said resident Angela Zumwalt.
In addition to the fate of the 14 homes on Highland Drive, residents and council members requested that the airport provide them with a plan for future growth and development. The airport's current master plan was last updated in 1996.
Delauter called that master plan "sorely outdated" and said money to update the entire plan -- which will cost more than $100,000 -- is not available.
"We don't have the money to update that plan," Delauter said, "so we update bits of it when we can."
Nash told members of the audience that the main goal for the airport was to recruit another commercial carrier to replace Delta Air Lines, which ended service to Moore County last November after a two-year relationship.
Delauter also said the Airport Authority has no intention of purchasing any land on the Whispering Pines side of the runway. He said, however, there were plans to purchase land on the other side, or Southern Pines side of the runway.
"That has nothing to do with Whispering Pines," Delauter said.
Another area of concern for some in Whispering Pines is the proposed addition of 17 hangars.
Nash said he didn't understand why council members and residents seemed opposed to the idea.
"We don't believe we have to get their (Village Council) approval to proceed with the building of the hangars," Nash said.
The council voiced concerns that residents' tax money was going to fund the $2 million needed to build the hangars.
Airport Authority attorney Tom Van Camp said those concerns were baseless. He said "not a dime, not a penny" of taxpayers' money would be used to fund the hangars.
"Those people who use the airport are paying for it," Van Camp said.
Councilman Skip Gebhardt raised concerns that the airport is used by smaller, noisier planes that are at odds with its goal to be a destination for corporate travel.
"Why is it in our best interest to increase the number of hangars," Gebhardt asked. "You've got a bunch of airplanes that seem to have no purpose but to create noise in Whispering Pines."
Funding for the airport hangars has been a contentious issue. Earlier this month, the Moore County commissioners voted 3-2 to have the airport, in essence, build its own hangars and will operate the county-owned airport with self-generated revenues -- and without a $2 million loan from Moore County.
The motion contains a further provision that the $100,000 included in the county budget to cover the local share of federal matching grants be removed from the budget in the future. This provision requires the Airport Authority to come to the county for grant matches on a case-by-case basis and to incorporate this information into the management contract the county holds with the authority.
Residents also voiced concerns about noise generated by late-night and early morning flights.
Delauter said the airport has a noise abatement plan, which requests planes to fly between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. He called reports of violators disconcerting, but said the airport authority is limited in what it can do.
"We simply cannot restrict flying to those hours. It's going to happen from time to time."
Bob Kroll, a member of the Whispering Pines Planning and Zoning Board and a pilot, said residents were making too big a deal about the noise.
"Those few seconds you are bothering about is a shame," he said.
The council requested the meeting in response to residents' concerns over planned expansion at the airport.
Resident Fred Korb said the 90-minute meeting was not helpful to him.
He said, "My concerns are growing."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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