The Fayette County Airport Authority has renamed the Connellsville Airport -- again.
At Tuesday's regular meeting, the board unanimously passed a motion introduced by member Myrna Giannopoulos to name the facility the Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport in honor of the 84 Lumber Co. founder and Fayette County commissioner.
The vote came after more than an hour of public comment in which everyone who spoke urged the board to keep the airport's name as The Connellsville Airport. More than 25 members of the public attended.
At a special 8 a.m. meeting on Jan. 6, board members voted 4-0 to rename the 88-year-old Dunbar Township facility the Joseph A. Hardy Regional Airport as a surprise for Hardy's 84th birthday. At a party that afternoon, Hardy was presented with artwork depicting his name on the airport terminal. Giannopoulos abstained from the vote, instead introducing a motion to name the facility the Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport, a combination of the traditional name and the newly proposed name.
The motion died for lack of a second in January, but passed yesterday.
"I don't know what changed," Giannopoulos said after yesterday's meeting.
Several speakers questioned the legality of the name change.
Connellsville City Councilman David McIntire referred to a city council resolution from May 8, 1936, and an ordinance from June 2, 1936, indicating that in the event of a sale, the name The Connellsville Airport could not change.
Authority solicitor Mark Rowan said the name The Connellsville Airport has no legal standing. He said that when Connellsville sold the airport to the county for $50,000 in 1966, "There was no reference to the deed or to the naming restriction. There was a merger by deed. That's the last word on the name. In 1966, restrictions on the name cease to exist. There is no reference to the 1936 documents."
Rowan also clarified that the airport authority is not a subdivision of the county, but of the state. However, Fayette County commissioners do appoint board members.
Evelyn Hovanec, of North Union Township, said the facility has been called The Connellsville Airport since 1936. "The historical importance of this county is never recognized. Ethically, morally and just doing the right thing is not changing the name. It leaves a bad view of boards to just do it, to rename the terminal for Joe Hardy."
She said that the only recourse to restore the name would be a lawsuit filed by county residents.
"Which they would lose," Rowan said.
Other area residents questioned the manner of the name change.
"Now, you're going to honor one person over thousands who contributed their tax dollars and their labor," McIntire said. "A lot of people feel this has been done wrongly. Four people are taking our historic name. We feel we are being robbed."
"I think you were disrespectful when you changed the name without public input," said Marigrace Butela, of Dunbar Township. "I think the board should be disbanded."
Many residents questioned what Hardy had done to merit the airport's being named for him.
Authority President Jesse Wallace said Hardy has given the airport $800,000 and not yet collected interest on the loan, had the hangars at the airport painted, helped rehabilitate downtown Uniontown and donated a Habitat for Humanity house.
Martin Griglak, of Connellsville, who previously served on the authority, questioned the cost to taxpayers of the airport's expansion.
"You want to extend the runway to accommodate corporate-type planes," he said. "This wasn't the first time discussing a name change. It was kept secret to surprise Joe. A $54 million project the taxpayers will pay to accommodate planes for wealthy people who don't live in Fayette County."
"Did you ever hear, 'If you build it, they will come?' " board member Terry Shallenberger responded.
Board member Mark Wassler added, "Since Sept. 11, corporations have excluded commercial travel. It's cheaper to take private air. There are four military contractors in Fayette County. All use private air. If we don't spend this money, they (the state and federal government) will give it to another airport. Everyone loses."
Griglak repeated his concern that taxpayers will shoulder the burden of caring for the airport that will be used by outside business people.
"You cannot recirculate your own dollars," Wallace said. "You need to bring in new dollars."
After the vote, McIntire said, "I'm surprised, shocked. There were no supporters here for the name change. It was totally wrong. There are other courses of action to get it changed back."
McIntire did not elaborate on possible courses of action.
Airport Manager Sam Cortis said pilots will not notice a name change. "We will still use Connellsville in communications. Brevity is important on the radio."
Wallace said no public funds will be used for new signs at the Joseph A. Hardy/Connellsville Airport.
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