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Airport Authority law nullified

by Matt Harvey

ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

CLARKSBURG -- A judge's ruling Thursday struck down a new state law reorganizing the Harrison-Marion County Airport's governing body, the Benedum Airport Authority, and handed power back to the old board.

The law had changed the makeup of the authority's membership July 1.

Before that, the Harrison and Marion county commissions appointed all members.

Under the new law, the authority had 11 members. The commissions appointed two members each.

Two also were selected by the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, plus its executive director was named to the board. That federally funded agency markets the airport.

Other automatic appointments were to 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.

Kanawha County Circuit Judge Herman G. Canady Jr. ruled the law was unconstitutional because:

n Lawmakers can't make "local or special laws" that regulate or change "county or district affairs," Canady indicated. He cited the West Virginia Constitution.

Also, the state has had a statute governing all of its regional airports since July 1, 1967, Canady wrote. Under the West Virginia Constitution, it was wrong to pass a special act since a general, existing law applied, Canady indicated.

n The new law violated the state's equal protection principle, Canady wrote.

In other words, a state resident selected for one of West Virginia's other regional airport boards would be picked much differently than someone picked for the Benedum Airport Authority board.

n Canady cited another consideration that was "perhaps not the mainstay of this decision."

The Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex Inc. is a private, non-profit corporation "that has not contributed funding to the construction or operation of the Harrison-Marion Regional Airport," Canady wrote.

Including representation from such a private corporation on the board would unconstitutionally deprive "the Benedum Airport Authority of its public character," Canady indicated.

The president of the airport authority, Harrison County Commissioner Roger Diaz, said he was pleased the ruling was made "as we thought the ruling should be made."

"I think this ruling firms up what the general public that has spoken with me and what anyone following this case has said -- that this bill should have never happened in the first place," Diaz said.

Diaz said the next step for the airport authority would be to meet as scheduled Aug. 14.

"We're going to continue to do what's right for economic development and the flying public," Diaz said. "We're going to make every effort to work with MAAC and the development of the property out there.

"If anything, I think the lines of communication are more open now with MAAC than they've ever been, and I anticipate MAAC to be a great help in assisting the Benedum Airport Authority to market properties we own."

The ruling means Bridgeport City Manager Kim Haws won't have a seat on the board, while Bridgeport Mayor Joe Timms will. Diaz said Timms -- who recently was appointed to the board by the commissioners -- has been a "beneficial and very productive" part of the board because of his background in engineering and business.

Timms said he hopes the matter "gets settled pretty soon."

"It's not good for the area," Timms said, "to have this situation up in the air."

Del. Barbara Warner, D-Harrison, sponsored the bill that became the new law.

"It still is in the court's hand," Warner said, "and the appeal process may be pending."

Haws and MAAC Executive Director Jim Skidmore did not immediately return phone messages.

Regional Editor Nora Edinger contributed to this story. Assistant Managing Editor Matt Harvey can be reached at 626-1032 or by e-mail at mharvey@exponent-telegram.com

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