Thursday, August 7, 2014

Autocross Fight Leads to Maryland "Losing" An Airport, Criticism of Violations of Meetings Laws

Once upon a time the National Road Autocross was routinely held without incident at the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport in Wiley Ford.  It brought substantial crowds and pumped $3 million into the economies of Allegany and Mineral counties.  The race also helped to justify the existence of a federally approved airport with no regular airline service.

Correction: The original article referred to the event as "motorcross."  It is actually an "autocross."

Then the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority decided to get involved.

Local newspapers have covered the unfolding of the issue.  When the PHAA first announced the discontinuation of the race, enthusiasts and local businesses protested and demanded reasons why. The Maryland dominated PHAA responded by taking the meetings into closed session.  Delegate Gary Howell and other West Virginia officials pointed out that this violated the West Virginia open meetings laws.

Despite the fact that the airport is physically in Wiley Ford, West Virginia, the board leadership claimed that it followed Maryland state meetings laws which allows for a wider scope of closed meetings.

The State of West Virginia fired back.  Susan Chernenko, Director of the West Virginia Aeronautics Commission, wrote in a letter that it "is (and always has been) a West Virginia airport."  She cites Federal Aviation Administration sources that also assign the airport to West Virginia.  Maryland only participates because Cumberland is considered by the FAA as "an associated city."

Maryland officials had always before acted under the assumption that the airport "belonged" to their state.

Besides open violations of West Virginia state laws, the PHAA leadership, which includes Allegany County commissioner Creade Brodie and William Smith IV, used misleading statements to the public explaining why it cancelled the race.  PHAA leadership claims that allowing the race to continue would jeopardize federal funding of the airport.

They are wrong again.

Eduardo Angeles, associate administrator of the FAA, says differently in a letter.  If the airport has FAA permission, "the Airport Authority would not necessarily be in jeopardy of FAA withholding future airport funding."  Since the autocross had been held there regularly in the past, the FAA would not have suddenly yanked funding for the airport unless there had been a major shift in policy.  Angeles' letter conforms there was not.

The Greater Cumberland Regional Airport belongs to the taxpayers who deserve to derive the greatest benefit possible from its use.  Residents, elected officials, and the State of West Virginia rightly question why PHAA leadership seeks to shut off one of the airport's most important economic benefits to taxpayers on both sides of the Potomac River.

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