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Airport Authority to consider lawsuit

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

BRIDGEPORT -- The viability of a lawsuit against the state will be discussed next week at a special Benedum Airport Authority meeting.

The board may challenge a new state law that removes most member-appointing authority from the Harrison and Marion county commissions. The two counties own the airport.

Authority member Jim Smith had no comment about committee discussion on the subject that occurred Wednesday. He said the committee and attorney Scott Tharpe will present their findings to the full board at 3 p.m. next Wednesday.

Tharpe is serving in lieu of authority attorney Dean Ramsey. Ramsey recused himself because he is also city attorney for Bridgeport.

The new law would give Bridgeport government voting status on the board.

Roger Diaz, authority president, said if the board does file a lawsuit, it needs to do it before the new law kicks in July 1. That would avoid questions about how the possible legal action would be financed, he believes.

"It would be a liability that the new board would incur," he said of a projected $25,000 to $30,000 in legal fees.

Diaz said the Harrison and Marion county commissions would likely also bear a portion of any such costs.

"We would probably bring suit in Charleston and name the governor as defendant," Diaz said. "We would use a Charleston law firm in that case."

At issue is a law that would change the makeup of the authority's membership. In the past, the two county commissions appointed all members.

Under the new law, the authority would have 11 members. The commissions would appoint two members each.

Two will also be made by the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex plus its executive director. That federally funded agency markets the airport.

Other automatic appointments will include a representative from the state Council for Community and Economic Development, the state transportation secretary, the Bridgeport city manager and the president of Fairmont State College.

Diaz and several board members have vigorously opposed the change, claiming it reduces local control.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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