W.Va. Lawmaker Wants Review Of Airport Authority's Autocross Denial

June 22--CUMBERLAND -- West Virginia state Del. Gary Howell has asked Creade Brodie Jr., chairman of the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority, to reconsider a recent vote that denied the members of the National Road Autosport from holding their annual autocross on the operational grounds of the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport.

Brodie made a motion at a special meeting of the airport authority on June 12 to deny the racing group access to the operational grounds and instead allow them to create an area outside of the airport fence to hold the races.

"Let me keep this simple. It would be outside the fence," Brodie said at the meeting.

The motion also included an offer from Brodie of $5,000 for additional paving to the outlying property if it would help the racers meet their needs.

Although it passed unanimously, some authority members were uncomfortable with the motion. Nicole Wagoner, a Cumberland city councilwoman who holds a seat on the airport authority, was not pleased with the outcome.

"I'm very disappointed. This is a community airport," said Wagoner.

She said she voted for the motion to at least keep the racing group and the autocross in the picture.

Bill Herbaugh, secretary of the NRA, said the airport authority is not looking at the total benefit of the event.

"They are missing the boat. The autocross has been a good economic development tool."

As for racing outside the airport fence, Herbaugh said, "There really isn't any place to do it outside the fence. I don't see how you could close any roads and do it."

For the past 11 years, the autocross has been held on the taxiway of the airport. It pits drivers from a wide variety of auto classifications against each other in a race against the clock. Drivers compete individually in precision driving races through a series of highway cones. The driver with the best time wins.

Howell, through email, urged Brodie, who is also an Allegany County commissioner, to revisit the vote.

"With autocrosses taking place at FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) controlled airports across the nation, I would request that you reconsider your decision to end the autocross at the airport in Wiley Ford," Howell said.

In addition to being the national chairman of the State Automotive Enthusiast Leadership Caucus, Howell sits on the Roads and Transportation Committee in the West Virginia Legislature. The committee oversees the state's aviation authority.

"I want to see the minutes from the meeting," Howell said Saturday. "I'm going to check with the state ethics committee and look into it. I want to be sure no ethics laws were violated."

It has been estimated that the autocross has brought in about $3 million in economic activity to the region since it started. Autocross officials said hotels, restaurants, vendors, stores, auto supply dealers, machine shops and others benefit from the event. During some years, the racing group has held as many as six events at the airport. For each day of racing, the group pays the airport $500.

"We have no commercial service at that airport. Why would you get rid of one of your top revenue producers?," said Howell.

Brodie responded to Howell's email inquires.

"In the last couple years, I have been getting several complaints from pilots and plane owners," Brodie said.

Liability issues, potential damages and having to close the taxiway for the race have been reasons for the concerns over the races. However, autocross officials said they have not had any incidents and liability insurance is carried for the event.

Brodie, and others against racing on the taxiway, said the FAA, which is one of a myriad of funding sources for the airport, has concerns over the autocross and could pull funding for future airport improvements.

However, a letter from the FAA to Ben Cardin, a U.S. senator from Maryland, who is helping to obtain a clarification on the matter with the aviation administration, was obtained by the Times-News. The letter says the FAA, which does permit non-aeronautical events at other airports, would like a form describing the event in detail so officials can consider allowing the race to continue.

"There are circumstances when a temporary partial airpost closure will provide benefits to the local community and the airport without a significant adverse impact to the aviation community," according to the FAA letter.

Signed by Michael Huerta, FAA administrator, the letter says that once the necessary information was supplied, "it is possible a resolution can be found."

The denial by the airport authority to hold the autocross on the operational grounds of the airport has generated two letters to the editor of the Times-News in support of the autocross and the creation of a petition on Change.org with about 300 signatures in support of the auto racing group.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.

Copyright 2014 - Cumberland Times-News, Md.