Carroll awards contract to Delta for airport expansion

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An expansion of the Carroll County Regional Airport — a project expected to cost $78 million — came a step closer to reality Thursday with the awarding of a contract for work related to the expansion.

The County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 Thursday to hire Delta Airport Consultants, of Charlotte, N.C., for planning, design and engineering work on the airport project. Delta has been hired for past airport projects, according to Joe McKelvey, manager of the airport, and he said the firm is "in tune" with the project and its needs.


Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, made the motion to approve the contract Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1 seconded the motion. Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, was the dissenting vote and Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, abstained.

The contract has no dollar amount associated with it but rather the bid process involved evaluating companies with one to be retained for future work to be conducted in connection with the airport project, as such work is deemed necessary.


"I'm not against [the expansion]. I just wasn't 100 percent clear on where we were on it," Weaver said. "I didn't want to make the wrong decision; I wanted to understand what I was voting on."

Carroll received five bids on the project, and a committee of three staff members rated the companies based on a technical and financial review, with Delta receiving the highest ranking.

Prior to the vote, several people who live near the airport addressed the commissioners regarding concerns about safety, project cost and whether it is necessary.

Mary Kowalski, told the commissioners they need to start thinking about those who pay taxes, not a few "well-connected business people."

"We hear economic development; for goodness sake, start thinking about those who pay the taxes," Kowalski said. "I'm worried about fiscal responsibility, not accountability to the well-connected developers, but accountability to the people."

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, who voted for the contract award to Delta, said he would never have supported such a project unless there was a local interest and need.

"The fact is, [the airport] needs to be maintained and it would serve to increase economic development," Howard said. "I think at the end of the day, to the [point] of economic development, it is important and I believe the board's interest is not in helping just handful of folks. It is one thing to say, 'I would pay more taxes to prevent this,' but would the entire community like to see a 30 to 40 percent increase in taxes? Because that is what it would take. I'm talking about relieving the burden on taxpayers."

In an interview after the meeting, Howard said the 30-40 percent figure was a "very rough number." His concern, he said, is that the county has a very tight budget, and if the funding needs are not offset by economic growth, a tax increase of that magnitude could be what is needed.


"It was sort of an illustration, not a calculation," Howard said. "My point was simply that if we take just one [solution] to solve our revenue problems it would be an extraordinary burden on taxpayers."

Frazier said another benefit of the expansion is increased safety, and it is a main reason for moving forward with the project.

Rothschild said his position against the expansion is based on facts, while those who support the project have no quantifiable data to back there position.

The impetus for the expansion was in large part due to the results of a study conducted by Delta in 2005, which predicted an increase in flights by relatively small aircraft. The study concluded that by expanding the runway, the airport would be able to accommodate such aircraft, he said, resulting in an increase in flight operations.

When the flight data was compiled several years ago, the results "did not pan out as predicted," Rothschild said.

"We were predicting 190,000 [flights] a year, and we are doing about half that," Rothschild said. "The data confirmed we shouldn't [expand the runway] and the weakening economy is reducing the need for smaller aircraft. If the data showed we had larger aircraft and more flight operations, I'd support the expansion, but it doesn't so I don't."


The previous board of commissioners approved the expansion and relocation of the existing runway in April 2013 by a vote of 3-2. Rothschild cast one of the two dissenting votes then.

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Construction of a new runway at the Carroll County Regional Airport, which is set to begin in 2020, is expected to cost about $78 million, but the county will be paying $3.9 million — about 5 percent — with 90 percent of the project being paid for by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the remaining 5 percent by the Maryland Aviation Administration.

Rothschild said that since the prior board chose to move forward with the expansion, he has received many calls and emails from his constituents who are against the project, but not a single business — other than two located at the airport — has supported it.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said the discussion regarding the need for such an expansion was not the purpose of the meeting Thursday.

"This has already been something voted on by the last board," Wantz said. "This is not a debate, folks. We are awarding a bid to Delta. We are not approving any projects; this contract is to be used for whatever it needs to be used for."