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Spirit of cooperation spurs Benedum Airport expansion

by Troy Graham


It seems some officials in the state are pretty impressed with the development and marketing of the soon-to-be expanded Benedum Airport and the adjoining industrial park.

The state Aeronautics Commission recently cited the work being done there as a benchmark in interagency cooperation, said Ray Farley, the Executive Director of the Harrison County Development Authority.

Involved in the airport project are the Development Authority, the Benedum Airport Authority, the city of Bridgeport and the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, or MAAC, which is made up of existing businesses at the airport.

MAAC is also the brand name given to the airport and the industrial park, both of which are undergoing expansion.

"I think things are going very well," said Development Authority President Don Molter. "The relationship has been superb."

But it wasn't always that way. Last year a debate ensued over who had the right to market the airport and the 200 acres of developable land that will be created when Benedum's runway is extended. Harrison County Commissioners Tom Keeley and Roger Diaz said MAAC, the organization, was representing itself as the lead developer of the airport. The airport authority had agreed that the development authority would be the lead developer of the land.

The dispute brought Rep. Alan Mollohan to town to mediate the dispute. Since then the groups have gone quietly about their jobs. Now, nearly a year later, it appears as if everyone has found a niche in the development.

Molter said the groups have been working together "as well, if not better, than any time before." However, goals for each group have not been established, Molter said.

Both Farley and airport authority member Roger Diaz described the relationship between MAAC and the development authority as "hand in glove." Both will work to promote the airport, Diaz said.

"There isn't a race as to who gets to do this or that," Diaz said.

"Quite frankly, I don't care who gets the credit, I just want to get the jobs," Molter said.

The groups held a strategic planning session shortly after Mollohan's visit, headed by Bridgeport Mayor Joe Timms. Only one meeting was held, Timms said.

"The proof of the pudding is going to be whether or not they can attract new businesses. That will be the measure of how successful our efforts are," he said. "And that unfortunately will be a few years down the road."

For its part, the City of Bridgeport is looking at new tax credits to encourage development. Council will most likely consider an ordinance today to freeze business and occupation taxes for expanding businesses, Timms said.

Any business expanding by $3 million and adding 15 employees will have their taxes frozen for three years, he said.

"It really takes all levels of government" to encourage development, he said.

MAAC Executive Director Jim Skidmore echoed the sentiments of other officials.

"We've had no problems with any of the groups," he said. "I think the cooperation has been excellent."

The runway extension is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 1999, and officials are currently in negotiations to buy land for phase II of the industrial park.

"It's not something that happens overnight," Skidmore said. "It takes time; it takes money; and it takes everyone's cooperation."