Port Authority agrees to begin airport study

June 19, 2009


Jun. 17--The Lake County Port Authority's board voted Tuesday to use $60,000 from the agency's reserve account to pay for the first phase of a study to determine the best use of Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby.

Executive Director John Loftus said the Port Authority is essentially loaning itself the money now because there is a push to get the study started.

Port Authority and other county officials, including the Lake County Planning Commission, are seeking other funding sources that would reimburse the agency's reserve account.

Among them is up to $35,000 in potential funding from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and $25,000 from the Cleveland Foundation's Lake-Geauga Fund.

The Port Authority also is trying to find additional sources, including other county entities and impacted parties, to reimburse the agency for its cost, Loftus said.

The airport study, which officials said might take about six months to finish, will be conducted by Cleveland-based Michael Baker Jr.

Loftus said one reason to take the money from the reserve account now was because the contractor's window to conduct the study at the price initially offered could close soon unless a decision to go forward was made.

Loftus also said U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, R-Bainbridge Township, has indicated he needs to see some action on the airport because he can't keep the $1 million-plus set aside forever for county commissioners to take over the airport's assets from the city of Willoughby.

"People realize that we need to make a decision on this," said board member Tony Debevc, who is chairman of the agency's airport committee.

The first phase includes a review of the contract and legal matters governing the airport, outside competitive issues, economic impact study, opportunity for an alternative location, and stakeholder and public meetings.

Loftus said it's possible this phase might serve enough purpose to determine the airport's best use and that the second phase wouldn't be needed.

If it is conducted, the second phase costing an estimated $35,000 to $40,000 would analyze data from the first phase, list possible courses of action, host an additional public meeting and provide a final recommendation to the Port Authority board.

The Port Authority has promoted the airport as a regional asset that is useful to communities beyond Willoughby and Mentor.

If the decision to close the airport is made, officials have said the knowledge from the study could be applied to other regional airports.