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West Mifflin officials encouraged by airport plans

| Thursday, May 22, 2014, 3:11 a.m.

West Mifflin officials walked away encouraged by what they heard at a recent meeting with the Allegheny County Airport Authority about County Airport.

“It was a very productive meeting,” Mayor Chris Kelly said Wednesday. “We opened lines of communications.”

Borough officials hope an agreement with Consol Energy can be opened to provide $2 million put in escrow until gas drilling can take place at the West Mifflin airport.

Consol hopes to drill 47 wells on Pittsburgh International Airport property later this year. The county hopes the deal with Consol will generate more than $500 million in royalties during a 20-year span.

“Once they pass the drilling ordinance for the International Airport, that frees up the $2 million for the County Airport to help modernize it and do some business ventures,” Kelly said. “(The authority is) amendable to the idea of having charter flights out of there to the islands and Myrtle Beach and places like that.”

The authority isn't confirming or denying that.

“It is a private meeting so normally there would unlikely be any announcement following,” authority spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said on May 13, in the only acknowledgment of a meeting from the agency that runs Allegheny County and Pittsburgh International airports.

Kelly said acting executive director James R. Gill “was very sympathetic” to other issues raised at that meeting, including the county's making the airport a “charitable trust” that erased most of the tax revenue the borough receives from airport operations.

The borough provides fire service as it has since the county closed a fire station there eight years ago this month.

With just one county police officer available from South Park, Kelly said the borough is principal provider of police and emergency medical service as well.

“We're waiting to hear back from them and we are going to continue to meet,” Kelly said.

Kelly started the ball rolling on a reassessment of the borough's relationship with the airport earlier this year, when he wrote a letter suggesting that commuter flights take place at County, as they do at Westmoreland County Airport Authority's Arnold Palmer Regional Airport near Latrobe.

At the Mon Yough Area Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon earlier this month, Allegheny County Airport Authority director of corporate and governmental affairs Vince Gastgeb said his agency is focusing on new ties with smaller airports elsewhere in Western Pennsylvania, such as Bradford, DuBois and Franklin, which have commuter flights to Cleveland or to Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., rather than Pittsburgh.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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