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Judge delays action on airport dispute

by Brian Farkas

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CHARLESTON-- A Kanawha County judge delayed a ruling Monday on whether to block a new state law that changes the makeup of the Benedum Airport Authority.

The law goes into effect July 1, and the current board claims it is unconstitutional because it amounts to special legislation that only affects the authority.

Harrison County Commissioner Roger Diaz testified that the new law was nothing more than the Legislature's attempt to "shove down our throats" a realignment of the membership.

Diaz serves as the president of the existing board.

The commission may withhold its $25,000 annual funding to the authority until the matter is resolved, Diaz said.

Membership to regional airport authorities is governed by a 1967 law, and the law approved April 12 did not modify existing law, said Nancy Hill, who represented the authority during Monday's hearing.

David Cleek, with the attorney general's office, said the lawsuit was misguided because it lists Gov. Bob Wise and the state aeronautics commission as defendants.

After Wise signed the legislation into law in May, his involvement ended. The commission has immunity from lawsuits, Cleek said.

If the authority wanted to properly stop the law, it should have sued the new members, Cleek said. Hill said she would modify her lawsuit.

The law changed the board's makeup to add four ex-officio members -- Bridgeport city manager, Fairmont State College president, Department of Transportation secretary and Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex director.

Currently, the authority's members are appointed by the commissioners of Harrison and Marion counties, which own the airport. The new law limits the commission appointments to two each, while two will be appointed by the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex and one by the state Council for Community and Economic Development.

Authority members said they were never consulted about the legislation sponsored by delegates Barbara Warner and Sam Cann, both D-Harrison; Doug Stalnaker, R-Lewis; and House Finance Committee Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy.

Judge Herman Canady delayed his ruling saying he hadn't "been this perplexed" about his authority to halt a law targeted for another county.

Canady did not say when he would rule on the case, but a decision could come late next month.

The authority has operated the airport for more than 40 years.

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