|Board member Marc Troutman (left) and Director|
Charles Eeverett (right)
Things have changed. ... I think.
At their last meeting, Lehigh County's Commissioners voted 8-0 to extend the Authority's Charter until 2051. Northampton County unanimously followed suit at their May 5 meeting.
Rev. Mike Dowd, a former Northampton County Council member and the Board's new Chairman, told Council the Airport Authority has made significant strides in achieving transparency and accountability. Starting in April, the Board began to televise their meetings. The budget, contracts and meeting minutes are all available online. There will even be occasional evening meetings.
The Airport's financial picture appears to be rosier now than it has been in some time, reported Executive Director Charles R. Everett. He told Council that the Airport finished 2015 with a 10% increase in passenger and a 36% increase in cargo traffic, leading to $1.5 million in additional revenue.The Board also refinanced debt, lowering its annual payments by $1 million. Its closing with Fed Ex for a regional distribution facility is just a few weeks away, and will mean 3,000 more jobs in the Lehigh Valley. There is an agreement to sell an additional 230 acres in Allen and East Allen Township to the Rockefeller Group, which is developing the Fed Ex facility. This Summer, the Airport will build a multimodal facility for bus traffic A new, 60,000 sq ft hangar is being built for general aviation tenants.
The sale of the Fed Ex facility will mean about $9.8 million in the airport's coffers. The remaining land will be sold for approximately $7 million.
"Maybe you'll find some money for Braden," joked Bob Werner, referring to a Forks Township airpark owned by the airport.
Currently, the Airport's Charter is expected to expire in 2035. Hayden Phillips noted that the 35-year extension would be computed from 2016, meaning that the Airport Charter will only be extended by 16 years, or until 2051.
Everett told Council that the Lehigh Valley's proximity to much larger airports in Newark and Philadelphia mean that passenger traffic will be limited, although efforts are made to maximize deals with airlines. He noted that, unlike the larger airports, Lehigh Valley has more capacity, and is only operating at about 35% of its potential.
This is where cargo comes in, and Everett claims that is growing "by leaps and bounds." he noted that Lehigh Valley is now one of five hubs across the country for Amazon. That will bring in 60 jobs.