Blair airport authority seeks county backing for a loan

The Blair County Airport authority asked county commissioners Tuesday to be the guarantor of a $1 million bank loan needed for a construction project that authority officials say will help the airport avoid insolvency.

The commissioners, recognizing there is risk either way, decided to wait a week to vote on the matter.

The commissioners’ guarantee is needed for the airport authority to be approved for a bank loan which would be used to leverage matching funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

With the non-qualified M&T bank loan and USDA funds combining for about $1 million, the authority would begin constructing rental T-hangars, airport authority Chairman Drew Swope said.

The airport typically has a waiting list of aircraft owners interested in renting T-hangar spaces at the airport.

“We are trying to get the airport to be self-sustaining. This project would put us as at a break even position (for annual budgets),” Swope said during the commissioners’ meeting Tuesday at the Blair County Courthouse.

Airport Manager Tracy Plessinger said the new hangers would generate an estimated $30,000 annually. Relatively speaking, it’s not a lot, but it’s what the airport needs to help its cash flow problems, Swope said.

Commissioner Ted Beam, an ex-officio member of the airport authority board, supported voting Tuesday to guarantee the loan.

“This is the approach that will get the airport on level ground,” Beam said. “It’s innovative. If we bypass this opportunity, (I) don’t know how long (the) authority can continue.”

However, Commissioners Terry Tomassetti and Bruce Erb voted to wait a week for more information.

“We wanted to review the proposal’s risks and benefits further and perhaps other options,” Tomassetti said. “And at next week’s meeting, we plan to make the decision.”

The bank loan would be repaid over 37 years by the airport authority. It is a low-interest loan.

Another major concern for the commissioners as they deliberate that project is that new hangars would increase storm runoff.

The authority must complete the project without expanding a sinkhole and water drainage issues under the county access road to the airport.

The construction of new hangars would necessitate installation of a retaining pond on property that the authority would acquire for the project.

“I want certainty that the airport will be able to do that in a reasonable period of time,” Tomassetti said. “I don’t want it to be open ended. It’s our belief that the expansion of the sinkhole is coming from the airport drainage. We are looking at them to solve the problem.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.