Airport Land Grab Was Wrong
By Fred Korb
Special to The Pilot
Another $1.2 million has been misspent in an arrogant and futile attempt to bring heavy-load jets and commercial passenger service back to Moore County Airport.
Clearly it’s a new low in wasteful government spending, land-grabbing and cynical back-room shenanigans by members of the Airport Authority, Moore County commissioners and the state DOT’s Division of Aviation.
The Pilot reported this latest waste of taxpayer money Sept. 28. Here we’re told the airport purchased 12 acres, at the “college end” of the runway, to comply with “federal safety regulations.” Not! The FAA only wanted a few tall trees “topped off” to facilitate safety in the flight path, a job that could have been accomplished (with the blessing of the landowner) for a few thousand dollars, not a million-plus.
Next, the land grab. This part of the story reads like the greedy banker tying the damsel to the railroad tracks. The Pilot describes the 12 acres as “heavily forested,” but doesn’t mention it’s also the site of a family business, Poverty Hill Nursery, and the home of landowner and family matriarch, 89-year-old Eva Dowd.
At the July meeting of county commissioners, one board member managed to get on the record that Mrs. Dowd had been threatened with condemnation of her home, business and land if she refused to sell to the Airport Authority.
Commissioner Tim Lea cast the lone vote against funding the purchase. He told his fellow commissioners the Dowds “were given an option to make a deal, or eminent domain will come into play and we will take the property.”
Mr. Lea adds, “That’s not working a deal. That’s making a deal under duress.” And he points out, “When you’ve got an owner who’s close to 90 (years old), that’s an issue.” That wasn’t enough to sway his four colleagues.
Mrs. Dowd now rents her home from the Airport Authority. Yes, at reasonable terms under the circumstances. But at 89, people close to her say Mrs. Dowd still lives “in terror” that she might at any moment be “thrown out on the street.” Our newly formed Committee to Stop Airport Waste and Bailouts is not going to let that happen.
And finally, the back-room shenanigans. County commissioners approved the $1.2 million deal without advance public notice, so there was no chance for anybody to ask questions. The Pilot reported the Airport Authority acted “with minimum publicity at the request of the family.” Check with the Dowds, who refused to sign an agreement to keep silent. Know this: The deal was maliciously done in the dark.
All this (and there’s plenty more) makes you wonder why they wanted all that land in the first place. Why keep it so hush-hush? And how does this “authority,” unelected and unaccountable, have the right to seize private property?
This, in America?
There is only one explanation, laid out in the Airport Authority’s own development plan. The county is committed to finance, not “safety improvements,” as they’d like taxpayers to believe, but a major expansion of the airport, taking more homes and land, putting at risk the quietly idyllic character of our community and at a cost to taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars, much of it already spent.
Don’t get me wrong. Many of us who oppose airport expansion actually like our airport. But we like it just the way it is. Still, it has been a losing proposition for the county for many years. The airport cannot operate without federal, state and local government bailouts and subsidies. As the number of private aircraft landings drops dramatically, airport managers and the county continue to spend money they don’t generate.
Airport waste is being allowed to happen in spite of nationwide calls for government austerity, when schools are being closed and teachers, cops and firefighters are being laid off.
FAA officials state emphatically that they will not allow federal funding of runway extension, or any other expansion, and never had any intention of doing so.
It remains to be seen whether not only the public, but the federal agency has been misinformed about the Airport Authority’s intentions.
Airport expansion can only have a negative impact on the local economy. As Whispering Pines Mayor Bob Zschoche wrote in a recent op-ed, the airport expansion has already taken a toll in reduced property values and a lowering tax base.
And he adds, “Airport expansion constitutes a serious threat to the economic growth of Sandhills Community College,” an airport neighbor and “one of the giant economic engines in the county.” SCC president John Dempsey has said he opposes airport expansion.
This issue has been argued for years. It’s time the taxpayers of Moore County settled it once and for all.
Fred Korb lives in Whispering Pines.
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