Airport gets $1 M pledge (Pikeville) Appalachian News-Express



Article originally posted to the (Pikeville) Appalachian News-Express Web site



After months of waiting, the controversy over whether coal severance funding should be used to finance a commercial air service project at the Pikeville-Pike County Regional Airport ended Friday when it was announced that $1 million had been allocated to the project.

In a press conference at Pikeville City Hall on Friday, representatives of the groups working to establish commercial air service at the airport gathered to make the announcement, made official by a statement from Gov. Steve Beshear that the project would receive the funding.

Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn, who has been an active participant in several events and announcements this week regarding new projects in the City of Pikeville, said during the press conference that the air service project is “extremely important” to the success of the region.

“The face of Pikeville is forever changing,” he said. The commitment of $1 million in multi-county coal severance funding, Blackburn said, brings the total that those working on establishing the service have to $1.75 million, which will be used to establish a revenue guarantee program for the carrier which commits to coming to Pike County.

And, with the commitment, the air service could be established fairly quickly, according to Luke Schmidt, the consultant hired by the Southeast Kentucky Chamber of  Commerce, City of Pikeville and Pikeville-Pike County Airport Board to work on establishing the service.

“We hope to have a commitment in hand by the end of the first quarter of next year,” Schmidt said.
According to Schmidt, he works in several communities throughout the state, but that this one sets itself apart. “This is clearly one of the most progressive cities in the state,” he said. And according to Chamber President Jared Arnett, this project is just one of many that is helping to change the  business climate in Eastern Kentucky, despite questions over the energy industry.

“It’s imperative that we step up … and create a climate conducive to new investment,” Arnett said.

A statement from Beshear’s office said the successful recruitment of an airline will “significantly enhance economic development efforts and the creation of new jobs not only in Pikeville and Pike County, but also in the surrounding 12 counties.”

The funding was almost not obtained earlier this year. After announcing that the funding was  possible and that the support of Floyd County’s fiscal court had been obtained, organizers ran into questions from the Pike County Fiscal Court over the viability of the project and whether the multi-county coal severance funding, which had been uncommitted, should be used for the project.
After weeks of debate and a public forum hosted by the Appalachian News- Express, the Pike Fiscal Court voted 5-2 to support the funding. The county’s support was required for the funding to be processed.

One of the “No” voters, Dist. 6 Magistrate Chris Harris compared the funding, which will guarantee revenue for an airline, to “corporate welfare.”

“Many of us here would like to see commercial air service in Pike County; that’s not the issue,” Harris said during a fiscal court meeting. “The issue is, ‘At what cost do we want to see commercial air service in Pike County?’ At a time when we are looking at a loss of jobs, declining tax revenue, a limited amount of funding, I don’t think Pike County, right now, I don’t think we can afford this kind of project.”

Both Blackburn and Schmidt spent time on Friday thanking Pike Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford and Floyd Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall for their support. Blackburn said that a formal check presentation ceremony for the funding, which will include Beshear’s presence will be held at a later date.