BY RUSS CASSADY
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.