A Federal Aviation Administration official disputes a recent Triangle Business Journal story about the Global TransPark that said the General Assembly must continue providing $1.6 million in annual funding or pay back $21.6 million in federal grants. The story attributed the legislature’s position to comments made by Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, D-Cumberland.
“Rand says lawmakers concluded they had little choice but to keep the operation going. Pulling the plug now, he says, would have required the state to pony up $21.6 million to repay the Federal Aviation Administration for runway development grants awarded to the GTP,” the news story said.
Scott Seritt, manager of the FAA Airports District Office in Atlanta, told Carolina Journal that was not the case. The FAA provided the GTP the money to extend the runway and make other airport improvements. “As long as the airport stays open to the public we really have no issue as to who the sponsor is,” he said. “Originally it was the Lenoir County and the City of Kinston. Then it became the TransPark and that was fine. If it goes back to the city or it goes back to the county, or to the state, it really doesn’t matter to us as long as one of those entities maintains the airport and follows all the agreements that are there.”
When asked about the non-aviation activities going on at the airport, Seritt said, “We consider that to be economic development issues and we don’t get into that.” Seritt also said he didn’t recall any North Carolina legislators or legislative staff asking him about the issue.
“I am delighted you told me,” Rand said to CJ when told about the FAA’s position contradicting his statements to the Triangle Business Journal. He did not provide any names when asked who specifically told him that grants would have to be repaid.
Rep. Nelson Cole, D-Rockingham, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation said, “We have been led to believe that concerning any monies given by the feds, if we shut down the GTP — we could be obligated. I have not researched it, but I will now be looking into it.” Cole said he didn’t think anyone has proposed shutting down the airport for the public. He thought any discussions were just about stopping the funding of the GTP’s economic development and other non-aviation activities.
Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee on the Department of Transportation, told CJ, “I have heard from DOT that you had to pay it back.” When asked who told him, he did not offer any specific names. He said he had not talked with the FAA and did not plan to. He said his support for the GTP is very strong. “As long as I am a state senator I am going to support the GTP,” he said.
CJ has asked DOT for copies of any correspondence from the FAA that addresses the issue. At press time, no documents have been received.
In July 2002 DOT officials made a similar claim about repaying the FAA in a report on the GTP. A CJ news story at the time quoted Seritt confirming that the airport would not have to pay back any money as long as it stayed open to the public. Seritt also said then he thought the airport could operate without a state subsidy. “We believe the GTP runway can be open and operational at this time without additional funds from the state,” he said at the time.
Don Carrington is executive editor of Carolina Journal.