Friday, August 12, 2011

Governor delivers $500,000 for airport

By Keith Lawrence, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Friday, August 12, 2011 1:07 AM CDT
 Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly put the “Golden Triangle” on notice Thursday.

“We’re coming after them,” he told a group of more than 50 community leaders who gathered in the Owenboro-Daviess County Regional Airport terminal at 12:30 p.m. to hear Gov. Steve Beshear announce the final $500,000 for the terminal expansion project.

The “Golden Triangle” -- Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky -- is the state’s richest and most successful area.

Beshear said the $500,000 multi-county coal severance grant he was announcing was the “capstone” to financing the $2.08 million expansion. The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority had earlier approved a $1.58 million no-interest loan for the project.

“What’s going to happen at this airport will raise the whole area to the next level,” Beshear said.

The expansion will add 8,500 square feet to the 14,000-square-foot facility. The project includes adding restrooms, expanding the baggage claim area and covering the area where the bags are loaded onto the planes.

Allegiant Air has flights to Orlando, Fla., two days a week and, on Oct. 14, it will begin flights to Las Vegas two days a week.

The jets currently carry 150 passengers and will expand to 166 passengers on July 1.

The airport terminal is bursting at the seams under the current passenger load.

“This project will bring the terminal more in line with industry standards,” Beshear said, “and it will increase the comfort of passengers.”

KentuckySkies, the company that has been making daily flights between Owensboro and Nashville since August 2009, has given notice that it will end its commuter service here on Sept. 30.

Whitmer said the U.S. Department of Transportation should be seeking bids for the essential air service contract any day now.

Bidders will have a couple of weeks to respond and the community will be asked to make recommendations on the airline it wants, he said.

“A couple of very reputable airlines have shown interest in Owensboro,” Whitmer said. “They require a sterile area after passengers go through security. We have that and it’s very attractive to airlines.”

He said the airport is hoping for three flights a day to a major hub city when the new contract is awarded this fall.

That would be in addition to the Allegiant flights.

“You’ve come through for the community again,” Mayor Ron Payne told Beshear. “This governor has been a tremendous asset to this community. He’s spent more time in this community than any governor” since Owensboro native Wendell H. Ford.

Ford, a former chairman of the U.S. Senate’s aviation committee, attended the announcement.

“When my phone rings and I see it’s him, I always pick it up,” Beshear said.

The coal severance dollars come from a pool of money left over when the severance tax dollars are divided among the counties where the coal was mined. Counties can join together to request some of the money for economic development projects without it costing them money already allocated to them.

Ohio County joined with Daviess County to request the airport money.

“I’m proud we could be a little part of this,” Ohio County Judge-Executive David Johnston told the crowd.

State Sen. Joe Bowen said, “Coal severance dollars are a great asset to this state.”

Beshear said the airport has seen $26 million in state, federal and local dollars for expansion projects since 1993.

His office said the latest expansion will add three full-time and several part-time jobs at the airport.

The airport will repay the loan from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority over the next two years, Whitmer said, at the rate of $750,000 a year. The money will come from the $1 million the airport gets each year from the Federal Aviation Administration for handling more than 10,000 passengers a year.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,