Wilkes-Barre/Scranton looking into establishing an authority

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Aug. 26--Airport explorers authority control

Board now run by two counties

PITTSTON TWP. -- Members of the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport Joint Board of Control unanimously approved a motion Thursday to further explore shifting control of the board to an airport authority.

"This is still the exploratory stage, but it's stage two," said Luzerne County Commissioner and board Chairman Stephen Urban.

The board, which is controlled by the Lackawanna and Luzerne County commissioners, would be professionally managed by county residents appointed to the board. An authority would provide more continuity, Mr. Urban said, because members' appointments are staggered to prevent having multiple new members per year. With elected officials operating the board, there is the potential that all six members could change as new commissioners are elected.

"The purpose is to take the politics out of it," Mr. Urban said.

Removing the politics, he said, would not only provide continuity, but also allow new members to be screened before their appointments. As the bicounty board stands now, commissioners automatically serve on the board.

"You don't know who the players are," Mr. Urban said.

Once the commissioners make their decision, the transfer of authority could occur within the next 60 days or shortly after, said solicitor John O'Brien.

In the meantime, the board will continue to explore the possibility of establishing an authority. While forming the authority is itself a simple process, the finer details of the process are more difficult, Mr. O'Brien said. The board will have to investigate, for instance, whether the airport's real estate would be transferred to the new authority and whether this transfer would involve a tax. In addition, any new contracts would have to be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration. The board would also have to determine which county would initially have the majority in the odd-numbered authority.

Also at Thursday's meeting, board members approved an agreement with the Transportation Security Administration to place armed officers at the airport's security screening checkpoints.

Beginning in October, officers from the Lackawanna and Luzerne County sheriff's departments will be stationed at the checkpoints on a daily basis. The agreement includes a $170,800 grant that will reimburse the daily cost of the officers at $25 per hour, airport director Barry Centini reported.

July statistics:

n Passenger enplanements increased 7.9 percent in July to 21,772, compared to 20,170 enplanements in July 2010.

n General aviation, the takeoffs and landings of aircraft, decreased 49 percent from July 2010's general aviation operations.

Contact the writer: jklimaski@timesshamrock.com

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