Sep. 20--SOMERSET -- A Washington, D.C.-based political watchdog group is calling for an end to federal funding for the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport in Somerset.
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sent a letter to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), urging him to include the local airport in his efforts to eliminate wasteful government spending.
DeMint is pushing to end the flow of federal funds earmarked by Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to a little-used airport in Johnstown, Pa., located in Murtha's congressional district -- and CREW asserts that the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport is a "similarly-funded and little-used airport" in Rep. Hal Rogers' (R-KY) district.
Local airport officials and Congressman Rogers, however, disagree with CREW's claims.
CREW's letter, signed by executive director Melanie Sloan, points out that the John P. Murtha Airport, boasting state-of-the-art facilities, only transported an average of 20 people per day in 2008.
"Under the direction of Rep. Murtha, the Department of Defense has spent $30 million over the years transforming this small regional airport into a military transport hub and staging area," the letter states.
"... In total, the airport has received earmarks totaling $150 million in the last ten years, courtesy of Rep. Murtha. The airport receives $1.4 million to subsidize air traffic. Similarly, Rep. Rogers has steered federal dollars to Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, a small facility located in his hometown, Somerset, Ky."
In the letter, Sloan says, "the airport sat empty for three years while the city tried to find airline carriers to service it," after the airport received a $3 million grant in 2004 to build a new terminal.
"In 2005, when Rep. Rogers served as a majority member of the House Appropriation Committee, he wrote to then-Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta seeking his support for Somerset's application for funding through the Small Community Air Service Development Program; the city won the grant," the letter continues.
"The airport annually receives a $1 million grant to subsidize flights, which allows passengers to pay less than $200 per ticket. Lake Cumberland Regional Airport's first commercial flight took off on Dec. 27, 2008, and flew 45 minutes to Nashville, Tenn. Beginning in May, the airport added service from Somerset to Washington Dulles International Airport on Monday mornings and Friday evenings -- exactly when government officials and those with government contracts may be flying between the two locations.
"The logic that has prompted you to seek an end to the $1.4 million subsidy for the John P. Murtha Airport also should compel you to end the $1 million annual subsidy for the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport. Both airports are funded through the largesse of influential members of Congress, both airports service few flights, and few passengers avail themselves of those flights.
"Wasted taxpayer money is wasted taxpayer money whether the money goes to an airport funded by a Democratic or a Republican member of Congress. CREW urges you to evaluate the advisability of funding the Lake Cumberland Regional Airport using the same criteria you applied to the John P. Murtha Airport. We believe when you do so, you will be compelled to offer an amendment stripping funding for both."
Rep. Rogers, along with Nathan Vallier, general manager for Locair, Inc., the airline servicing Lake Cumberland Regional Airport, were offended by the "uninformed" attack.
"These politically motivated attacks by Democratic Party hit teams and uninformed earmark crusaders like CREW are laughable," Rogers said Friday.
"Has anyone from CREW ever stepped foot in our community? Have they taken the time to address the challenges we face as a region? For 29 years in Congress I have done my level best to improve our region, and I will not let some outside group hurt our progress. Sen. DeMint rightfully ignored their baseless demands."
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