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Leaders Discuss Steps to Open New Airport

WILLIAMSON - U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., met with Mingo County leaders on Thursday to discuss what it will take to open the new Appalachian Regional Airport near Varney.

The new airport, which would replace the Mingo County Airport in Williamson, has been in development since at least 2002. Now the airport is about 95 percent complete, but has several hurdles to clear before it can open, Jenkins said. Thursday's meeting was held at the new airport with members of the Mingo Redevelopment Authority and Mingo County Airport Authority.

Jenkins brought with him federal and state representatives to help brainstorm ways to complete the remaining projects, including paving an access road, extending a public sewer system, establishing a broadband connection and building a terminal building.

He brought Kelly Workman, project development manager at the West Virginia Development Office; Kathy Elliott, deputy director of the Region 2 Planning and Development Council; West Virginia Aeronautics Commission Acting Director Robbie Queen; and U.S. Department of Agriculture State Director Kris Warner.

Leasha Johnson, executive director of the Mingo Redevelopment Authority, said she left the meeting feeling good about checking off the remaining projects needed to open the airport.

She learned from Warner that the USDA gives grants for broadband and sewer projects, as long as there is a benefit to the larger community. The Redevelopment Authority would need to explain how people in Varney would have access to a sewer system and broadband connection in the needs assessment of any grant application, she said. She intends to start the grant writing process within at least six months, after other projects wraps up, she said.

The group discussed ways that southern counties are exploring to reduce costs of building sewer lines, which includes more innovative sewer systems instead of miles of piping, Jenkins said.

He said the group also focused on how the new airport would diversify the economy and bring in new manufacturing opportunities.

There is about 500 acres of space around the airport ready for development, Johnson said.

"It's always been our intention to market those properties as an industrial development opportunity or some kind of small manufacturing plant," she said.

The new airport sits on approximately 900 acres of a reclaimed coal mining site, a partnership between Alpha Natural Resources and the Mingo Redevelopment Authority.

Johnson said her goal would be to bring manufacturers of airplane parts and equipment, like KCI Aviation in Bridgeport, West Virginia, which has done work for large airlines and the military.

The new airport in Varney has a runway strip, lights, 10 hangars and a airplane fueling system. During a recent meeting, the Mingo Airport Authority was given permission to bring a dedicated phone line to the site, which the Federal Aviation Administration requires in the event of a fire at the fueling system.

The Mingo County Airport in Williamson may remain open until the new airport is complete.

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