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Airport authority legislation repealed

By Susan Dickson
Staff Writer

Legislation authorizing UNC to establish an airport authority was repealed last week with the approval of the Government Reduction Act.

The bill includes the “elimination of certain state boards and commissions that have not met recently, are duplicative or are not deemed critical,” and repeals a 2008 statute that allowed the UNC Board of Governors to create an airport authority. The authority was intended to find a site for an airport that would replace the Horace Williams Airport when it closed for the construction of the Carolina North project. A number of county residents came out against the airport authority, citing concerns about negative impacts on neighbors, the environment and local farms.

In 2009, UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp announced that the university would not seek the approval of an airport authority and that the Area Health Education Centers program – which uses Horace Williams for flight operations – would move to Raleigh-Durham International Airport. AHEC is in the process of moving to RDU, where a $3 million hangar has recently been completed.

“The fact is, the state is so broke right now that there’s no way they’re going to build Carolina North,” Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, who represents Orange County, said in an interview on Tuesday. “If they’re not going to build Carolina North, they might as well keep the airport open.”

Reps. Verla Insko and Joe Hackney, who represent Orange County, and Kinnaird initiated adding the UNC authority legislation to the bill.

Cliff Leath, a board member of Preserve Rural Orange, a grassroots organization that grew out of opposition to the airport, applauded the delegation’s initiative.

“The repeal of the airport authority legislation gives us all a cause to rejoice and thank our legislators for listening to us,” Leath said in a press release. “It also reminds us that people working together for the common good can and do make a difference. The formation of Preserve Rural Orange, meetings held at White Cross Community Center, petitions that neighbors signed, news articles and letters to the editor and communication efforts by Orange County Voice, local businesses and other community groups were all a testament to our resolve over this issue.”

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