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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

So How is the LV Airport Going to Pay That $26 MM Judgment?

$3,000. That's what is added daily, in fines and interest, to an 11 year-old judgment owed by the Lehigh Northampton Airport Authority. You see, it condemned land in Catasauqua for an expansion that, ironically, never occurred. Right now, the tab is around $26 million, give or take a million.

Now you had nothing to do with this colossal error, compounded by the Authority's refusal to pay. You can thank Executive Director George Doughty for that. But we all may end up paying the tab.

The Airport Authority has been around since 1946, believe it or not. An unwieldy, 19-member Board of Governors, oversees operations. Ten are from Lehigh County and nine from Northampton. They administer Lehigh Valley International Airport, located on 2,629 acres in five different municipalities. They also manage Queen City Airport (Allentown) and Braden Airpark (Forks Tp).

At one time, Lehigh and Northampton County provided financial assistance to the Authority in the form of direct grants and guaranteeing bonds. Then, the Federal Aviation Administration stepped in to provide grants for capital programs, which has saved both counties hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But who's going to pay that $26 million judgment? Looks like it might be you. I'm told the Authority will be asking both Counties to guarantee a bond to pay for the land grab debacle. Apparently, there is no other way to pay this debt.

"Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit sniffing glue!"

What this does is put taxpayers on the hook in the event of default. It will also have a negative effect on the bond rating of both counties.

Here's my question. Why do anything? With much better airports in nearby Newark and Philly, is there really a need to have an airport here? I've seen lemonade stands that are managed better.

A year ago, both counties received an Airport Management Study, prepared by the Berger Group. Recommendations include a smaller and more interested Board. Both Execs have appointed people who are willing to stir the pot. But is it enough?


Anonymous said...

Unpaid Bills:
No wonder Hooters Airlines didn't
feel the need to pay its $1M
dollar overdue bill?

Anonymous said...

I bet the airport authority would have taken payment for the bill in Wings!

Anonymous said...

Sell Queen City and pay off the judgement. Instead of a tax exempt private club for a few pilots it becomes an industrial park generating taxes and jobs.

Anonymous said...

No housing at Queen City. As smart grwoth advocates suggest, it draws from Center City neighborhoods.

How can you possibly grow LVIA or the Valley if you bring Route 22 to a halt. Current engineering designs are inadequate.

Need to draw air travelers from the southern corridor of I476. Current conditions on Route 22 discourages business travelers who have Phl as an option. Even if you get stopped in traffic on the way to Phl, you can always catch the next flight an hour later.

An American Parkway extension is not the solution to LVIA.

Anonymous said...

Sell Queen City to the city and accept LVIA for what it is. Cut the subsidies and just let it be a little regional airport.

As much as I would like for it to be something more, it never will be. A wider 22 will have no impact either way.

Anonymous said...

Seize the estates of the morons caused the problem.

This is the problem with governing bodies in general. Zero accountability. When they screw up, intentionally or just because they are incompetent, they skate and leave the public holding the bag.

Same type of thinking in the schools, which is how the nonsense in Lower Merion will play out. The perpetrators of that stupidity will walk and do it again somewhere else, while the public
end up suing itself.

In the corporate world, executives like Kozloski, Lay, Scrushy, and others got the hammer. Time for the same type of accountability, criminal when possible, civil when it doesn't rise to that level.

Republican, Democrat, no matter. You ask for the public to trust you, live up to it or get your ass handed to you by the people you screwed over.

Anonymous said...

It would be totally unacceptable to guarentee the bond. Here is a good reason why. The Harrisburg Authority convinced the city of Harrisburg and Dauphin County to guarantee the bond on a trash incinerator a few years back. Now, the thing is just about bankrupt and has failed to meet debt service payments for months. The city of Harrisburg and Dauphin County are on the hook for that backing. The city was already strapped with debt. The mayor lost re-election in the primary and the numbers are only starting to be made public. Last week, the mayor met with the governor to see what the state could do. The answer was pretty well nothing. Act 47 may be insufficient to help the city. The decision to back the debt on the incinerator very well may lead to true, legal bankruptcy when it is all said and done. At least the new mayor is being forthcoming about the matter.

Lehigh County is paying 20 million in debt service in 2010, 15.8 million of which is being spent out of county real estate taxes. That 26 million backing that is being requested, if LVIA does in the same unsustained direction as the Harrisburg Authority, becomes taxpayer responsibility. Our debt service payments would balloon.

That request is unacceptable. LVIA, staff and board, must figure this one out without requesting county backing on a new bond. The irresponsibility is their doing.


Anonymous said...

The Airport Authority has passed a resolution in January to reduce the number of board members from 19 to 15.

Lehigh and NorCo must approve this change now.

Chris Casey said...

Am I out of line to ask our Congressman and Senators to intervene here? There is a great deal of international shipping through LVIA. UPS and FEDED both have an airhub, as well as smaller DHL. I would be interested to see the commerce numbers on freight at LVIA.

Anonymous said...

Am I out of line to ask our Commonwealth Legislators to intervene on Route 22?

I am sorry to say that when lives are lost or there are accidents and lives are disrupted there is an effect.

If proper attention is not given to Route 22, why even consider expanding LVIA.

Mr. Casey, you mention commerce related to shipping out of LVIA. Let’s consider how these trucks transit the valley to get LVIA. Route 22 maybe?

Chris Casey said...

Anon 5:51,

Everything you buy at a store was delivered there by a truck, not by a precision parachute drop.

There has been so much bad planning and lack of foresight by the rah rah Build Build LV planners that it only makes sense to THINK before we do any more damage.

It could be argued that 22 should have been widened ten years ago but it wasn't.

Take a look at actual commerce andtraffic flow, and build on that. One reason so much money has been flushed away at LVIA is overly optimistic air travel forecasts. They should get their figures right, then start planning.

Anonymous said...

Chris, thanks for your view point. Let’s not treat Route 22 like it is a greenway through fertile farmland. Smart growth advocates suggests bike paths and horse trails are the solutions. Advocate for rail to NY lobbied to have Route 22 derailed with the intent of diverting that funding. While having commodities like these are a nice complement for weekend excursions, it does not get people to and from their day jobs, grocery shopping, pick up the kids, and rush to their sporting activities. Not every valley resident has a quasi governmental job, is retired, is single, has time to read a book under a tree and sip a latte at the coffee shop. Face it folks, families are more complex. Most cannot afford a stay at home parent. Most have long commutes. Gone are the days of the mills and walk to work manufacturing jobs. Some folks even use LVIA to get to their job assignments.

I do not want to see any more sprawl. That is why I feel it is imperative we invest in the Route 22 corridor, even if it only means widening the section between Cedar Crest and Airport road and improving/lengthening the ramps. Staggered two and three lanes seem to work perfectly fine on other highways which have varying degrees of traffic. Let’s recycle the land that is already developed. A congested Route 22 gives more incentive for new construction along the Route 222 corridor toward Berks County. That would be a far more adverse effect.

Anonymous said...

The simple fact of the matter is more people die on Hanover Ave than all of 22.

Safety is not a valid reason to widen it.

Anonymous said...

expand route 22 and all you will get is more traffic. Instead of back ups to cedar crest blvd, you'll get traffic jams all the way to the 78 split. It happens every time and with every highway that is expanded. More cars, more traffic jams. More of the same crap and millions wasted.

Take care of the secondary roads and make them more passable, extend the on/off ramps, incure the costs of improving bridges and overpasses... you get more bang for your buck out of that.

Incidentally, route 22 is not the reason lvia sucks. Philly is a hopping airport with its main access points being 76 and 95, both known for massive traffic jams at the point of the airport. sure, the service at philly sucks, but access via transportation isn't an obstacle for it.

LVIA has shown time and time again that demand can't just be drummed up out of thin air. how the heck the executive director is still there is beyond comprehension. he must have a contract that makes dismissal for cause very difficult to pursue.

Anonymous said...

Anon 844. There have been four fatalities on Route 22 in vehicular accidents between MacArthur Road and Fullerton Ave since November of 2008.

Maybe you should propose that Allentown should divert the 100K it wants to spend on bike racks and the $10M it wants to spend on bike paths to projects like Hanover Ave.

As far as Route 22, if you do not like widening, lets call in local travel lanes just like the six lanes of traffic near Route 378 that benefits Bethlehem travelers.

Anon 917. If you think access is not relevant, are you suggesting we abandon the notion of $90M for the American Parkway Extension into Allentown. Maybe we should properly invest in existing infrastructure.

Face it, LVIA is not going to get a drastic increase in vacation travelers. The growth will be on the business end. Business will not relocate to the valley if the transportation infrastructure is deficient.

Anonymous said...

As far as planning and growth, why is it that New development 2 miles south of Hamilton at Queen City is a good thing, however if that same development happens 2 miles north of Hamilton, or 2 miles east of Seventh Street, it is called sprawl?

Anonymous said...

I meant to state 2 miles west of Seventh Street....We all know it is ok if New development occurs 2 miles to the east in Bethlehem.

Anonymous said...

11:46--American Parkway has very little to do with LVIA. I am sure the powers that be at the LVIA will say that they would continue to underperform until Route 22 and American Parkway are complete. The point is that LVIA is not the best option for business fliers in the region. It never will be. Philly has and always will have more direct flights and Newark. The only real growth possibilities for LVIA, aside from what some consultant will try to tell you b/c if he does he gets paid for it, is for commodities, not people. With the industrial parks surrounding the airport, there is plenty of infrastructure (warehouses, wide roads with direct access to LVIA without entering the highway, communications, etc) to support commodities. It isn't the sexy stuff that LVIA staff want, but it gets planes taking off and that pays for the bills.

To make that work, LVEDC and the property owners of the mega-industrial parks would have to get serious and turn that whole area in hanover twp into that vision. they aren't going to do it though.

Anonymous said...

What ever happend to the cargo airport that was proposed near Hazelton?