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Allegheny

$1.1B Pittsburgh airport project falls flat with some residents

| Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

A resident attended an Allegheny County Council meeting Tuesday to urge county leaders hold a public hearing before continuing to plan a massive $1.1 billion airport project, and he claims to have the backing of nearly 150 residents.

John DeFazio, council president, said the council does not have any jurisdiction over the airport and that no county funds are being used for the project. He suggested the residents instead take their comments to the Allegheny County Airport Authority board.

David Allinder of Green Tree said he has been talking to the public about his concerns since September, when the airport announced the project . At that time, Allegheny County Airport Authority CEO Christina Cassotis told the Trib that the airport and airline officials made the decision to build the new terminal without public input.

The authority has since held three public meetings to collect public input on the desired features for the new terminal.

Nearly 150 people said they were interested in a Facebook group Allinder started, called “Demand a public meeting on the airport teardown,” but none others showed up to the meeting in time to give a comment.

“The idea of spending that much money to tear down the majority of a 25-year-old building, reduce it in size, and the idea we can actually save all this money and not raise landing fees sounds a bit outlandish to me,” Allinder said.

The airport's fee it charges airlines, known collectively as the cost per enplanement, was $12.85 per departing passenger in 2017. After the new terminal opens in 2023, the airport plans a lower fee of $9.73 per departing passenger .

The fee is one factor airlines consider in deciding where to add service.

Bond money will be used to finance most of the project's $1.1 billion cost, not local tax dollars, Cassotis said.

Allinder worries that if the bonds are not paid off on time, the taxpayers could be stuck paying for them, he said.

Sam DeMarco, R-North Fayette, defended the project.

“For what it's worth, I believe this is a great project for Allegheny County, it's going to move us forward and tax dollars are not at risk,” DeMarco said.

Allinder's group is also asking for an independent review of the project and for the airport to put a hold on all project expenses until the public hearing is held, he said.

An independent review is not necessary, DeMarco told Allinder after the meeting.

The airport authority in January hired Orlando-based R.W. Block Consulting to work on the project for $1.09 million in the first year.

The authority also is paying Chicago-based consultant Ricondo & Associates Inc. $7.6 million to develop the master plan.

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, tclift@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tclift.

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