WILEY FORD - Del. Gary Howell has written a letter to Dr. Gregg Wolff, the incoming chair of the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority, pointing out what he says is "a fair amount of incorrect information" that has been cited by authority members on several occasions.

By Liz Beavers
lbeavers@newstribune.info
Tribune Managing Editor
WILEY FORD - Del. Gary Howell has written a letter to Dr. Gregg Wolff, the incoming chair of the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority, pointing out what he says is "a fair amount of incorrect information" that has been cited by authority members on several occasions.
The authority has been at the center of at least two controversies since their decision earlier this year to not host the National Road Autocross at the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport in Wiley Ford.
In making the decision, several members based their vote on the belief that hosting non-aeronautical events at the airport would endanger Federal Aviation Administration funding for the runway renovation project.
When Howell questioned that reasoning and asked for copies of the minutes of the executive session in which the topic was discussed, authority members informed him they were operating under Maryland Open Meetings laws and the minutes were therefore to be sealed for a year before they could be released.
To confirm that decision, the authority voted during the July 24 meeting to include in their by-laws the statement that they would be operating under Maryland laws.
In making the motion to do so, member Bill Smith cited as one reason, "The FAA plan lists the airport as being in Maryland."
In his letter to Wolff, however, Howell says that is inaccurate.
"I contacted Susan Chernenko, director of the Aeronautics Commission ... (who) provided a letter showing there is no truth to the rumor that the FAA lists the Cumberland Regional Airport anywhere other than Wiley Ford, West Virginia," he wrote.
Howell also provided the News Tribune with a copy of Chernenko's letter, in which she states, "The Greater Cumberland Regional Airport is (and always has been) a West Virginia airport."
Howell also took exception with the authority members' contention that a non-aeronautical event on the airport property would jeopardize FAA funding.
"I contacted FAA administrator Michael P. Huerta to request clarification," Howell wrote.
"The FAA administrator's office stated the request for non-aeronautical events or hosting non-aeronautical events with FAA permission will in no way jeopardize funding of airport projects if the submitted safety plan is followed."
To support that statement, Howell provided the News Tribune with a letter from Eduardo A. Angeles, who replied to the legislator's inquiry on behalf of Huerta.
Angeles wrote: "Airport sponsors who request the FAA's permission to use aeronautical property for a non-aeronautical event would not be in jeopardy of FAA withholding future airport funding for simply seeking permission to do so."
In addition, he wrote, as long as an airport followed the "terms, conditions and/or requirements imposed by the FAA" in hosting such an event, the funding would not be jeopardized.
In closing his letter to Wolff, Howell said he understands the authority "lacks the staff ... to gather information in a timely manner," but the authority "should be doing a better job of eliminating misleading information from its decision-making process.
"One thing that would help in that regard is holding the meetings in accordance with the West Virginia Open Meetings Act as required by law," he continued.
"Because the public comes from all walks of life, public insight and tight scrutiny sees things that may otherwise be missed.
"Again I request that the PHAA follow the W.Va. Open Meetings Act, not only because it is the law, but because it is always in the best interest of the public to hold the meetings in the most open format possible."
The next airport authority meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 28.