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PennDOT wants Rock Airport in West Deer to remain open

| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 1:46 a.m.

PennDOT's Bureau of Aviation is asserting a claim in bankruptcy court to $9.3 million in grant money it awarded for improvements at Rock Airport in West Deer.

Friday's filing is the first from the state regarding the airport's grant liability, which came into question once the bankruptcy trustee negotiated a purchase agreement for the park and airport in March.

Rock Airport and Business Park has been in bankruptcy proceedings since 2009.

There is a $6 million purchase offer on the table from Alaskan Property Management, a subsidiary of Management Science Associates (MSA), a tenant of Rock Business Park.

But it is contingent upon the property being free and clear of liens or claims — including grants or grant assurance agreements.

Trustee Natalie Lutz Cardiello has requested that a judge rule the airport has no liability or ongoing responsibility to the state Bureau of Aviation regarding grant agreements.

Hearings on the sales agreement and the grant liability issue are scheduled for Thursday.

Although PennDOT places the grant liability on Rock Airport, airport president Rock Ferrone believes PennDOT's assertion could ultimately help him.

He objects to selling the airport to Alaskan/MSA because he believes the company will close the airport.

“It's fantastic for the airport,” Ferrone said. “It was concerning to me that someone could come in and shut down the airport operation.”

The state awarded about $11 million in grant money to fund the current runway and lighting as well as filling in a valley to allow for the eventual expansion of the runway to 5,000 feet.

The agency believes it is entitled to $9.3 million.

Each grant agreementcontained language that requires repayment of the grants if, within 10 years of completion, any grant-funded facilities are not used for aviation purposes or if the airport closes.

The clock started ticking in 2006, when the final phase of the project was completed, PennDOT asserts.

“The airport was identified by PennDOT as a catalyst for economic growth in the southwestern region of Pennsylvania,” PennDOT's attorney Michael Alsher writes in the filing. “That was the primary reason such a large amount of grant money was provided to the debtor (Rock Airport).

“PennDOT's interest is that the airport continue in operation so that PennDOT will not lose its considerable investment in the property.”

Ferrone said he believes Alaskan/MSA's interest in buying the property is so it can close the airport and install a power line in the runway protection zone at the south end of the runway.

MSA is involved in litigation with Rock Airport concerning use of the park's power grid, specifically where to place an alternate power line to get off that grid.

Ferrone said it would be unlikely that MSA would get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to do construction work near an operating runway.

He said he intends to submit a reorganization plan to the bankruptcy court within the next few weeks that would keep the airport open and expand the runway to 5,000 feet plus make other improvements.

“My goal all along has been to build an airport which would attract business and attract economic development,” Ferrone said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer forTrib Total Media. She can bereached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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