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Airport Authority dispute need not have happened

Sen. Jay Rockefeller says North Central West Virginia is on the leading edge of the new economy.

His remarks during Friday's Harrison County Chamber of Commerce dinner shouldn't surprise many. This area has seen major growth in comparison to the '70s and '80s, when it seemed like every major employer was shutting down.

The aerospace complex at Benedum Airport is a major component of that growth. More than 1,500 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $37 million have been created in the past decade.

That is why it is distressing to see the unfolding dispute over recent legislation that changes the makeup of the Benedum Airport Authority.

Authority members -- chief among them, President Roger Diaz -- are upset that they found out about the bill only after it had passed the House and the Senate.

Harrison County delegates Barbara Warner and Sam Cann knew about the bill -- they sponsored it. Even U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan was aware of the bill. Authority members, on the other hand, were out of the loop.

The bill would allow the Harrison and Marion county commissions to appoint four members to the authority. The Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex would appoint two members. In addition, the authority would include MAAC's executive director, a representative from the state Council for Community and Economic Development, the state secretary of transportation, the city manager of Bridgeport and the president of Fairmont State College.

We agree that the authority should now include the players who are having a major economic impact on the airport. Benedum Airport is no longer a sleepy little airstrip; it is the keystone to Harrison County's economic future and the authority's structure should be modernized.

What bothers us, however, is how this whole thing came about. The bill was not introduced until April 6, only nine days before the end of the regular session. Rules were suspended in both houses to grease the track for the legislation and it was not until the bill passed that authority members found out about it.

We feel the current authority members, all volunteers who receive no compensation, were treated shabbily. They, in fact, should have been included in the process and been allowed to help craft the legislation.

Before Gov. Bob Wise considers signing or vetoing the bill, he should use his bully pulpit to insist all parties meet and resolve their differences.

Until then, regardless of Wise's decision, we see no end to the dispute, and that's unfortunate.

All parties need to realize people don't really care who's standing on the podium to announce a new business and new jobs -- only that those jobs are available.

Working together, much can be achieved. It already has been. But let's keep moving forward.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of both the Exponent and Telegram editorial boards.

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