News: CJ Exclusives

TransPark financial risk to state overrated

Federal agencies don't support DOT claims

N.C. DOT officials have apparently overstated potential financial obligations in a recently released report on the Global TransPark, according to federal officials.

The report claimed that if the state did not spend an additional $2.9 million on capital costs for the runway completion, the state might have to pay back the Federal Aviation Administration as much as $33 million and may also forfeit $14 million in annual statewide airport grants.

Federal airport grants to North Carolina fall under the authority of the FAA Airports District Office in Atlanta. Manager Scott Seritt told Carolina Journal that there appears to be a lot of misinformation being put out about the GTP in Kinston. He said that no grants need to be repaid as long as the airport remains a public facility. The airport, he said, could be transferred from the GTP to another government organization, such as a Kinston-Lenoir County Airport Authority.

He also said North Carolina is not in any danger of losing $14 million in annual federal statewide airport grants that Department of Transportation officials said were at risk. “Those grants are not tied to the GTP,” he said.

“We believe the GTP runway can be open and operational at this time without additional funds from the state,” he said. DOT’s public information officers could not be reached for a response to the FAA’s statement.

The DOT report also mentioned an obligation to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to spend $4.5 million for remaining environmental impact mitigation. The environmental impact statement permitted 6,000 acres of land for development, including 1,500 acres of land that the state owns at the GTP. The document said the cost to complete the environmental commitments, including wetland mitigation, is $4.5 million. “If the state chooses not to complete the mitigation of the GTP, it will lose its permit with the Corps of Engineers and its credibility with the Corps, EPA, and DENR, as well as the environmental groups across the state,” the document said.

But David Franklin, of the Corps’ Wilmington office that issued the environmental permit, told CJ the state could apply for a modification. He said wetland restoration was needed only for work that was already completed, such as new roads and the runway itself. He said there is no need to mitigate wetland damage for the numerous manufacturing facilities that have not been built. He said the amount of mitigation that has been completed needs to be determined and matched to actual damage.

The DOT report pointed out $11.2 million in principal and $2.5 million in interest that the GTP borrowed from the state Escheat Fund. This loan still remains a sticking point for state officials to resolve. State Treasurer Richard Moore told CJ, “We consider this to be an official and enforceable loan. So far, there has been no breach of the terms of the loan, and we do expect repayment.”

In spite of mounting concern over the future of the GTP, supporters remain active. At 7 p.m. July 24 on the East Carolina University campus, ECU Chancellor William Muse, who is now on the GTP board, and DOT Deputy Secretary and GTP Authority Vice Chairman Gene Conti will sponsor what is apparently an invitation-only briefing on the GTP.

Pamlico County Commissioner Christine Mele, who received one of the invitations, told CJ, “This looks like an engraved wedding invitation.”

Muse could not be reached for comment on the event.

Carrington is associate publisher of Carolina Journal.