Boyd officials support airport

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Sep. 21--CATLETTSBURG -- Boyd County officials renewed their financial commitment to Tri-State Airport on Tuesday in addition to appointing a new county representative to serve on the board of directors.

The decision followed a discussion about the airport's economic value to the region and an admission by Boyd County Judge-Executive William "Bud" Stevens he had not paid the county's $5,000 annual contribution to the airport last year.

On Tuesday, Boyd County Fiscal Court members voted to make good on this year's pledge and appoint Economic and Community Development Director Nickie Smith to the serve on the airport's board of directors.

Stevens, who took office in 2007, said he "turned down" paying the $5,000 last year because he "didn't realize the impact they had on our area. I didn't see the advantage at that time. I didn't know where that $5,000 was going."

Stevens said he now knows the $5,000 is put into the airport's general fund but is used to show area support of the airport when it applies for federal and other transportation grants.

Tri-State Airport Director Jerry Brienza brought the issue to light earlier this month when he contacted Stevens to request the county not only pay this year's pledge but appoint a new board member to replace Morris Griffiths, who died several weeks ago.

Fiscal court members have made the $5,000 annual contribution commitment for years, Brienza said, adding Boyd County has maintained a seat on the board of directors since the airport's inception in the early 1950s. Boyd County was one of the founding fathers of the airport, he said.

"With that there was always an obligation of fiscal buy-in to the airport," Brienza said.

He said the annual seat contribution is in the bylaws of the airport's board of directors.

"We're asking for the seat contribution. That way they can have a voice in the airport. I hope they consider us their hometown airport. It's just like making a contribution to any nonprofit agency for the services we provide in the community," Brienza said.

"I do believe the judge wasn't informed about what that money was going to last year. That's why I've been on a circuit tour, letting them know what their money is being used for," he said, adding he plans to meet with Stevens on Tuesday and will continue to meet with other local government officials in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia in the coming weeks.

Tri-State is one of the nation's fastest-growing airports. It contributes $74 million to the local economy each year and employees more than 800.

Brienza said he is looking forward to Smith sitting on the board because of her extensive economic development experience. He said the airport wants to "diversify and bring various aviation companies into the area." Smith, he said, could be "instrumental in providing us with some guidance to do that."

Kevin Gunderson, an Ashland city commissioner and airport board member, expressed pleasure about the county continuing its relationship with the airport.

"I think it is important because no community will be viable without commercial airline service. More importantly we must stop thinking of the rivers Big Sandy and the Ohio as being the Berlin Wall. Tri-State Airport is far more important to this area than the Lexington airport or Columbus," Gunderson said.

In addition to Gunderson, Jim Purgerson, director of the Ashland Alliance, serves on the airport board along with representatives from Lawrence County, Ohio, and several communities in West Virginia.

CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at cstambaugh@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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