A New Capital Reliever
Stafford County, VA, prepares to add a corporate airport as its latest economic development tool
By By John F. Infanger, Editorial Director
STAFFORD COUNTY, VA — One year from now, officials in this community some 35 miles south of Washington, D.C., will open an airport. Central to the creation of this GA/corporate facility is an economic development initiative to build off the phenomenal growth of the Virginia suburbs that has continued since the 1980s. When it opens on time, the airport will come in under budget and debt-free.
The airport has been on FAA’s and
local radar scopes since the 1970s, when it was determined that there
would be a need for another reliever to Dulles and Reagan National Airports.
Then, Stafford County was still seen as rural and remote to the nation’s
Growth has brought the capital to the county. By the mid-80s, the idea for the airport resurfaced and in 1990 a seven-member airport commission was formed to begin to take a serious look at the initiative.
James A. Lewis is a local businessman who owns Lewis Insurance Associates in Stafford. He was one of the original commission members and still serves on what is today the Stafford Regional Airport Authority.
"We went through a very turbulent time in the county because a lot of people didn’t want an airport, didn’t see the benefit of it," Lewis recalls. "A lot of that is changing now; people are seeing the benefit of the economic development end of it.
"There are always people who resist any type of change. I moved here in 1969 and we had bad roads, bad schools, no water, no sewer. We had a terrible (county) Board of Supervisors. Now, we’ve got the best schools in the area; we’ve got water and sewer; we don’t have any gravel roads anymore. And we’ve got a tremendous Board of Supervisors. We’ve got a top bond rating whereas before we couldn’t even borrow money. And we’re ruining the quality of life here?"
To offset initial opposition and to gain the local support required to spur federal funding, the commission set out on an educational road show, according to Lewis. In time, the initiative gained business and civic support in the region.
Adjacent Prince William County and the city of Fredericksburg signed on with their support, and gained seats on the commission/authority. On the authority, Stafford County has four seats; Prince William two; and Fredericksburg one.
Lewis explains that officials in Prince William County immediately saw the benefits of a new reliever after it had studied building one of its own to replace a private airfield which had been bought up by developers. The D.C. suburbs, however, by that time had reached into the area, making land acquisition prohibitively expensive, says Lewis.
"The site was at $140 million when they stopped studying it because it was so expensive. So, when they heard we were putting one in at this end of the county, they jumped at the opportunity to participate."
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