Miller visits ARA, discusses long-term plans for the facility
By Bruce Justice 04/19/2021
One of the reasons West Virginia Congresswoman Carol Miller came to Mingo County last week was simply to visit the Appalachian Regional Airport at Varney for the first time.
However, the main reason Miller said she came was to sit down with local officials and discuss ways the ARA can foster increased business and travel to the region and, ideally, shore up a local economy that of late has taken a hard hit by a faltering coal industry.
Among those local officials on hand to hold discussions with Miller were Mingo County Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Leasha Johnson and Deputy Executive Director Greta Curry, Mingo County Commissioners Thomas Taylor and Diann Hannah, and Mingo County Airport Authority board members Denver Stacy and Michael Smith.
During the roundtable discussion, Johnson explained to Miller the original purpose of the airport, its funding sources, and plans for the developable 500-plus acres surrounding the airport itself.
Johnson said the ARA has been an ongoing project for more than 15 years.
“Several years ago when surfacing mining really began populating the coal mining industry we recognized in Mingo County that there would be a huge need for development sites,” she explained.
To get out in front of the long and arduous process, Johnson continued, the MCRA began collaborating with coal companies and all the necessary regulatory agencies — such as the aeronautics commission and the FAA. She said the process was also well underway while the mining companies themselves were still producing coal.
Johnson said the plan turned out to be a very good use of private sector funds because if the airport had simply been a project taken on by private developers it would have cost in the range $40 million just to get it to the stage it is now.
Although economic development funds greatly aided in the construction of a $2.6 water extension, she said the airport still lacks wastewater treatment and paving of the last half of the access road.
Johnson also brought Miller up to date on a master plan/feasibility study for the ARA being completed by the consulting engineering firm retained by the MCRA to do the study, E L Robinson, as well as that firm’s subcontractor, R. L. Weidemann and Associates, which ideally will target and attract outside development of the surrounding property.
She explained the study will include a market analysis, a preliminary engineering design and estimated cost for the airport’s access road and potential funding sources to complete that road; an evaluation of utilities infrastructure; and boundary mapping of developable property, as well as comprehensive marketing and branding strategies.
Miller commended the county for “its vision” of 15 years ago and assured those in attendance that she would use her office and staff to help secure the funding needed to further along the development of the ARA.
“I’ve been blessed because my sons and grandchildren live just a mile from me and so many West Virginians don’t get to have that opportunity because their children have had to go somewhere else to find work,” she said. “So my focus is what opportunity can we bring here, how can we do this? That’s why I’m thrilled to be here and whatever we can do to help move these projects forward we’re going to do.
Following her stop at the ARA, before leaving Mingo County Miller also made a stop to tour Reed’s Sprayfoam Insulation at Cinderella as well as the town of Kermit to talk to officials there.