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Airport authority's case to be heard Tuesday

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

CHARLESTON -- A Kanawha County judge will hear Benedum Airport Authority's case against the state next week.

On Tuesday, authority attorneys will ask Circuit Judge Herman Kennedy for a temporary injunction to stop a new law from restructuring the board July 1. The authority wants the judge to permanently stop the law, as well.

"I'm happy that this is being heard," said Roger Diaz, authority president and Harrison County commissioner.

"What I'm hoping for is the Harrison-Marion Regional Airport Authority will go back to the status quo and allow us to do business as we have the last 41 years."

The lawsuit was filed Thursday by the Charleston law firm Winter Johnson & Hill. It names Gov. Bob Wise and the state Aeronautics Commission as defendants and challenges the new law's constitutionality on several points.

Bill Case, a Wise spokesman, said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit as of Thursday afternoon.

"Until someone up here reviews it, I can't say anything," Case said.

Delegate Barbara Ann Warner, D-Harrison, was not available for comment Thursday. One of four legislators who introduced the bill, she has previously said it was intended to modernize the board and better prepare the airport for future development.

The constitutional challenges specifically contend:

n The Legislature cannot pass a local or special law that regulates or changes county affairs.

n Placing special rules on Harrison-Marion Regional Airport deprives it of autonomy and benefits other regional airports have under general state law.

n The new members will not necessarily meet the requirements of the general state airport law. Specifically, the new guidelines do not ensure Harrison/Marion county residency, a balance of political party representation or freedom from conflicts created by employment in the aviation industry.

In the case of three Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex appointments, the suit alleges there is a known conflict of interest because all three are employed in the aviation industry.

Complex director Jim Skidmore elected not to comment on the lawsuit Thursday.

Diaz said legal costs are capped at $20,000. He said whatever portion of that cannot be funded through the authority budget will be split between the commissions.

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

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