Commissioners move forward with airport master plan

Smaller planes will continue to be the majority of air traffic at the Carroll County Regional Airport in Westminster, but that may change in the future.

On Tuesday night, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 in favor of Delta Airport Consultants developing a scope of work for an updated master plan that keeps the facility a smaller Class C-II airport but gives future boards the option to expand it to a larger C-III airport. The Federal Aviation Administration will have to approve the scope of work before Delta develops the updated master plan.

The decision came following two-and-a-half hours of debate and questions by the board. Commissioner Dave Roush, R-District 3, voted against the scope of work because he wanted to increase the length of the runway and have the facility become a C-III airport. Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, R-District 1, did not attend the Tuesday night meeting.

The updated master plan will reflect the board's January decision to have the facility remain a C-II airport and not extend the runway 1,300 feet so that it can accommodate larger C-III planes. Updating the plan makes the county eligible to receive a large chuck of the $5 million it needs to repave the 5,100-foot runway from FAA and Maryland Aviation Administration grants, according to Roy Lewis, planning director for Delta.

However, the board voted Tuesday to also include the previous board's plan of extending the runway and making the facility a C-III airport in the updated master plan. A future board will be able to choose, but it is not required, to make the facility into a C-III airport.

Even if the board had not voted to include the C-III airport option in the updated master plan, a future board would still be allowed to do it, according to Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4. Any decision the current board makes, can be overturned by future boards, he said. Not including the plans to become a C-III airport would only give people a "perception of stability," he said.

A future board may only choose to change the facility into a C-III airport 20 years after the county received grant money to keep the airport as a C-II facility, Lewis said. The county is looking to use federal and state grants to repave the airport's runway by 2017.

Lewis estimated that the master plan will cost between $300,000 and $500,000 and take between six and 12 months to develop after the FAA approves the scope of work. The updated master plan will have numerous components including new air traffic forecasts, a financial feasibility study and privatization analysis.

The commissioners flirted with the idea of leasing, selling and/or privatizing the Carroll County Regional Airport. Lewis pointed out a number of issues the board would face if it sold the airport, such as paying off old grants and not being able to control the future of the airport. Regardless, the board asked Delta to develop a scope of work that included an analysis of the possibility of privatizing the airport.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, questioned how marketable the airport would be to sell considering it doesn't bring in a lot of money and the runway needs to be repaved by 2017.

"I would be surprised to get someone to take this over let alone pay to take this over," Howard said. "I think we as a board need to come to the realization that we own an airport."