The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority is giving supporters of Northampton County's Braden Airpark until the end of next April before taking action to close and sell that small airport.
Braden's supporters are being given more time to find a way to purchase the airpark from the authority and keep it operating as a general aviation airport.
The extension was approved by the authority Tuesday afternoon, less than a week after Northampton County Council voted to urge the county executive to sue the airport authority if it proceeds to sell Braden.
Even before the authority board voted, Atty. Robert Brown Jr., one of the leaders of Save Braden Airport Initiative Group, thanked board chairman Tony Iannelli, airport executive director Charles Everett Jr., the airport staff and the rest of the board for agreeing to keep Braden open at least through the first quarter of 2014.
“We want this to be a win-win situation,” said Brown.
The board's vote gave the airpark an extra month, until the end of April.
Iannelli said the extension will give Brown's organization, and Northampton County, time to put something together that allows the Forks Township airpark to remain an active airport, independent from the authority. He said it is being done "for the good of the community."
The authority’s action was very positive, said Erik Chuss, chairman of the Forks Township supervisors. “It gives us much needed time to work out a solution for keeping it open.”
Dean Browning, treasurer of the authority board, voted against the time extension, saying it is a mistake to do that "without having the financial impact in front of us." He said Braden is losing money for the cash-strapped authority -- about $5,000 a month.
"Can we hold our breath for a little bit?" appealed Iannelli. "We're willing to give them a little more time to see what they can work out."
Tuesday’s vote was not the first time the authority has delayed taking action to sell Braden. In June, it agreed to give Braden supporters 120 days to develop a plan to purchase it so it can continue to operate as an airport.
On Sept. 5, those supporters created “a proposal for Northampton County to form an airport authority to acquire and operate Braden Airpark.”
On Sept. 19, Northampton County Council unanimously authorized county executive John Stoffa to sue the airport authority if it proceeds to close or sell Braden.
Brown explained Stoffa’s term as executive ends Dec. 31, adding that resolution by County Council also will apply to his successor.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, who serves on the authority board, called Northampton County's threat to sue "absolutely ridiculous." Said Pawlowski: "We've got to stop this mentality and start a dialogue, start talking to each other and figure out how we can come to a meaningful resolution."
Said Iannelli: "We're going to be cooperative and support this is long as we can."
“Northampton County Council is very adamant that they want Braden Airpark to stay open,” Brown told the authority.
Brown explained that only Northampton County’s executive, not its council, can initiate legal action against the airport authority.
Brown also told the authority “I want to take a target off my back.” He said some local news organizations incorrectly reported he was the author of County Council’s resolution that urged the county executive to sue the airport authority to stop the closure of Braden Airpark.
“I was not the author of that resolution,” said Brown. “I was not asking Northampton County to sue you folks.”
While authority member Robert Buesing did not object to the time extension for Braden, he suggested the authority form a committee with those trying to save the airport, adding that committee should ask Northampton County and Forks Township if they can help cover the expense of snow plowing Braden’s runway this winter.
Outside the meeting, Brown said the airport authority wants to sell Braden Airpark for $3.5 million. He hopes the authority will be willing to sell it for around $1.7 million.
Chuss said Braden is not worth as much as the airport authority assumes, because Forks Township’s zoning is fairly restrictive on that 74-acre property– it is recreation/open space/municipal – and no attempt should be made to sell it for a use not permitted by that zoning.
If the airpark can be purchased from the airport authority, Brown saidn Braden, which is the only airport in Northampton County, would be operated by its own five-member authority.
Authority moves toward other land sales
After a closed-door executive session lasting well over an hour, the airport authority voted in public to authorize the airport solicitor and executive director to finalize an agreement of sale for 250 acres of land owned by the airport north of Race Street.
That sales agreement will be with The Rockefeller Group, a New York City-based commercial real estate developer and broker.
That resolution also authorized the airport to negotiate a purchase option with Rockefeller for another 199 acres adjoining the 250 acres.
Those properties are in Allen and East Allen townships.
Any sales will be subject to approval by the authority board.
The authority passed a second resolution designating “all remaining flight path properties as disposition properties for potential future development, reuse and/or sale.”
Those five properties, which total 299 acres, are northeast of the airport in Hanover Township, Northampton County.
Buesing voted against both resolutions, but did not explain the reason for his votes.
Iannelli said the airport has had a good relationship with Rockefeller, but the board’s action allows local developers an opportunity to partner with the airport on other parcels.
The authority intends to use income from the land sales to help pay off a multi-million-dollar legal judgment against it. Proceeds from a sale of Braden Airpark also would be used to pay that debt.
According to the legal settlement’s payment schedule, the authority must pay $3 million before the end of 2013, $5 million in 2014 and $6 million in 2015. It paid $2 million last December.
Also during the meeting, it was announced that Brian Sinnwell, planning and facilities director at Lehigh Valley International Airport, has accepted the position of deputy executive director for planning and engineering at Louisville Regional Airport Authority in Louisville, Ky.
“He has served the airport authority with distinction for the past 12 years,” said Everett.
Pawlowski told the authority he has convinced senior planning officials at US Airways to come to LVIA in late October to meet with airport officials and local corporate leaders about how local air service might be increased.