Airport report, plans draw criticism at meeting
Opposition is growing to plans to move Horace Williams Airport, even as a new consultant’s report and economic planners tout its potential as an economic-development engine.
On Monday, about 250 residents from southwest Orange County attended a meeting on airport plans at the White Cross Community Center sponsored by two nascent advocacy groups.
Residents around White Cross are particularly concerned about the airport since that community was named as a possible site.
On Wednesday Southwest Orange Neighbors and Orange County Voice announced that the two groups intend to oppose locating a general aviation airport in the county, insisting instead that air operations for the Area Health Education Centers be transferred to Raleigh-Durham International Airport as originally planned.
Resistance by AHEC at a legislative hearing last year led in part to the decision to reconsider the RDU move. In this year’s short session of the General Assembly, the university system asked for and was granted legislation that would allow it to set up an airport authority to site a replacement for Horace Williams. The legislation requires the replacement to be built in Orange County.
The advocacy groups’ announcement also derided a draft report by transportation consultants hired by UNC-Chapel Hill’s foundation that says Orange County would see roughly $50 million in economic benefits. Orange County’s newly hired director of its Economic Development Commission, Brad Bradwell, made a similar case last week at an economic-development briefing.
In an op-ed published in this week’s Citizen, Chancellor Holden Thorp and Medical School Dean Bill Roper stress that no site has been chosen for the airport. They also cite the new economic analysis.
“Long term, we believe a new general aviation airport is important to the future of AHEC, the university and the economic success of Orange County. We need a new, convenient airport for the university, UNC Health Care and the surrounding community,” the men write.
The authority has yet to be constituted. The airport legislation specifies that the 15-member body be composed of four members appointed by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees and four from the UNC Health Care system. In addition, three members are to be appointed by the Orange County Board of Commissioners, two members from municipalities within the county, one member by the speaker of the North Carolina House and one member by the Senate president pro tempore.
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