Fayette commissioner questions airport authority on FAA cited deficiencies

| Friday, April 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County Commissioner Angela Zimmerlink voiced concerns Wednesday that the Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport could jeopardize state and federal funding for capital improvement projects if the authority does not take swift action to correct deficiencies found two years ago by the Federal Aviation Administration.

At a meeting, Zimmerlink told Fayette County Airport Authority board members that she plans to contact the FAA concerning airport deficiencies uncovered in 2011 during a land use inspection.

In a letter dated Feb. 4 this year, Mahendra Raghubeer, the FAA's airports compliance program manager, stated that the land use inspection report dated July 5, 2011, provided her office with documented FAA's observations during the inspections and required numerous corrective actions.

Although the authority's reply letter addressed some of the findings, Raghubeer said, other findings still require a response from the authority.

“Your continued unauthorized uses of airport property and the failure to collect fair market value rent to maintain a self-sustaining rate structure and address other deficiencies indicate to us that the Fayette County Airport Authority is not making a good-faith effort to fulfill its federal obligation with the grant assurances in a timely manner,” Raghubeer said.

Raghubeer asked the authority to provide a response within 15 days on the appropriate corrective actions taken by the authority to resolve all of the remaining land use inspection items reported.

“The FAA is committed to working with you to resolve these inspection findings as soon as possible to assure that existing and future federal funds to support airport projects at VVS (Joseph A. Hardy Connellsville Airport) are not jeopardized,” Raghubeer added.

Zimmerlink said she plans to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the FAA to find out the status of deficiencies at the airport.

“Of course, I'm concerned about the state and federal funding at the airport,” Zimmerlink said. “The Fayette County Commissioners provide over $80,000 for capital improvement projects at the airport every year. We also recently allocated Marcellus shale impact fees to help with the county airport. ... This commissioner will continue to ask questions to find out what's going on.”

Zimmerlink said she is very concerned that the deficiencies have not been resolved in two years.

Authority Chairman Fred Davis said it is not necessary for Zimmerlink to become involved in the authority's issues with the FAA.

“This will just add another layer of complexity to the issues,” Davis said.

As a Fayette County citizen, taxpayer and commissioner, Zimmerlink said she is entitled to request documentation from the FAA through the Right-to-Know Act and the Freedom of Information Act.

“The red flag raises when grants are being jeopardized,” she said.

After the meeting, Davis and other authority members claimed the FAA deficiencies can be quickly resolved.

“Every airport receives deficiencies during inspections,” said authority member Samuel Cortis who was previously employed as the airport manager.

In other business, authority members said they are continuing to work to resolve financial problems at the airport.

“We've been paying our bills as the money comes in, and our finances are starting to turn around,” Davis said. “We really didn't have a grip on what was going on after the previous airport manager's contract was terminated.”

Davis said Mary Lou Fast, the previous airport manager, was paid a severance package of $30,000 which will cover her salary through October when her contract expires. The authority is also paying new airport manager John “Bud” Neckerauer a salary of $42,000 a year.

Cindy Ekas is a freelance writer.

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