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Who owns Benedum Airport?

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- Harrison County Commissioners decided Tuesday to send a letter urging Gov. Bob Wise to veto legislation that will change the makeup of the Benedum Airport Authority on July 1.

Commissioner Roger Diaz said the legislation will effectively take ownership of the airport away from residents of Harrison and Marion counties and give it to the state. Diaz currently is president of the authority.

Del. Bobbie Warner, D-Harrison, has said that House Bill 3252 will provide the authority with a board that has more of an "aerospace and planning background," but does not give ownership to the state.

"We didn't take power from the counties, we just brought in two state agencies and (the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex). Everybody who has an interest in the airport should be represented," she said.

Commissioner Jim Smith, also a member of the authority, questioned the manner in which the bill was passed through both sides of the Legislature.

"It's hard to understand why this is the only airport in West Virginia that the Legislature wants to control rather than let control stay with the user providers," he said. "I think the delegates and the senators owe it to their constituents to explain why this was done in a clandestine manner and why they feel the airport should be controlled by the Legislature and by (the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex)."

Smith and Diaz both said they were upset because the members of the authority were not notified that legislation calling for the change was being considered.

Diaz said one member of the authority was informed, but that member has only attended one meeting in the past 12 months.

Smith said that the bill was not read on three consecutive days as required by law. Both the House and the Senate voted, by a 4/5 majority, to suspend the rules and read the bill three times in the same day.

House of Delegates Clerk Gregory Gray said suspending the rules was a common practice, especially near the end of the session when time is tight.

Del. Doug Stalnaker, R-Lewis, also said suspending the rules is common for local bills, which traditionally are introduced on Fridays. Stalnaker was one of the bill's sponsors, along with Warner, Del. Sam Cann, D-Harrison and Del. Harold Michael, D-Hardy.

Warner said the legislation was needed to help the airport take advantage of business and economic opportunities, not strip ownership from the people of Marion and Harrison counties.

"We've got a prime location up there at Benedum and under the 1960 legislation we couldn't move forward with anything," she said. "When things are old and antiquated, they need to be changed."

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com.

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