Fate of Salem Airport still “up in the air” PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 July 2009 00:00
    Monday evening, July 13, the Salem Common Council and the Salem Municipal Airport Board of Aviation Commissioners (BOAC) held a public hearing for the purpose of receiving input from citizens on the proposed sale of the Salem Municipal Airport.  
    Approximately half a dozen people choice to comment at the meeting.  Of those, only one spoke in favor of selling the old airport.  The others either spoke against the new airport or asked questions about the construction of the new airport—neither subject was the purpose of the Monday night meeting.  Earlier this year, a public hearing was held by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the BOAC to receive public comment on the construction of a new airport to the north of the current facility.
    Salem Mayor David Bower explained that the city and the BOAC are in negotiations with Lucas Oil for the purpose of coming to an agreement for use of the old airport facility.  As has been reported earlier, Lucas Oil plans to develop a drag racing facility on the old airport runway.  In addition, speculation about the connection between the Lucas Oil plans and expansion of the facilities serving the Salem Speedway seem to be increasing.
    Bower explained that any money received from the sale of the existing airport would, by law, have to be used in one of two ways.  First, the money could be used as the local match for the new airport facility or it would have to be returned to the FAA to repay the agency for money spent over the years maintaining and improving the current airport.
    Bower went on to say that the real issue is not the new airport but rather the economic development that the community would realize if Lucas Oil or any other entity would locate the type of operation being discussed here in Washington County.
    The FAA has made it clear numerous times that the only site that the agency will approve for the new airport is the one just north of the current location. In addition, an airport runway that can accommodate private and corporate light jets would be seen as a drawing card for racing drivers, owners, and fans along with any perspective employers looking to relocate to Washington County..
    Bower went on to say that nothing has been finalized with Lucas and that the sale of the current airport will be done with full transparency.  According to Bower, the BOAC will advertise for and take bids from any interested party.  Bower said that besides Lucas Oil, Owen Thompson of Salem Speedway has also continued to express interest in the property.  In addition, Eric Rusby expressed interest in bidding on the property at the meeting.
    A closed meeting between Bower, members of the BOAC, and representatives from Lucas Oil took place Tuesday, July 14, for the purpose of further discussion.  No details from that meeting are available at this time.  However, many hurtles need to be overcome before any public announcement will be made.  The FAA requires that the new runway be completed before the old one is closed.  Furthermore, financial considerations on the part of the city, the county and the state must also be worked out.
    The next step in the process is to have the 50 + acres of airport property appraised.  After the fair market value of the property is determined the bidding process can begin.  FAA regulations state that the winning bid must be equal to at least 90 per cent of the appraised value to be accepted.  If that threshold is not met, then the bidding process will be opened again.
    With no further public comment being offered on the sale of the airport, the public comment portion of the  meeting was closed.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 July 2009 08:08