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Massena officials suprised, frustrated by OBPA airport expansion announcement

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MASSENA - When Massena Mayor James F. Hidy and Town Supervisor Joseph D. Gray read over the weekend about a planned $10 million expansion at the Ogdensburg International Airport, both men say they were surprised and frustrated.

Mr. Gray explained that two years ago he and Councilman Albert N. Nicola met with Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority Executive Director Wade A. Davis and board Chairman Samuel J. LaMacchia to discuss the difficulties associated with having two airports so close together.

“We talked about things we could do to work cooperatively and focus our efforts on one airport to make one airport the best it could possibly be and allow it to become a regional airport,” Mr. Gray said. “We had been waiting to hear back from them, but we never did and now I’m reading this.”

Based on what he’s read thus far, Mr. Gray said he has many questions.

“Do they have approval from the FAA to expand their runway and how are they going to pay for moving a state highway?” he asked, noting those are just two of the many questions that should be asked.

In that meeting, Mr. Gray said they also discussed the possibility of the OBPA managing Massena’s airport or even creating an airport authority to run both airports, but that was not all they discussed.

“We discussed the fact that other authorities are regional and their charge is the same, but they focus all of their efforts on Ogdensburg,” Mr. Gray said. “When is the last time the OBPA did a project outside of Ogdensburg?”

Mr. Hidy agreed.

“I can appreciate the work the OBPA does for the immediate Ogdensburg area,” he said. “I think Massena and our quest for airport expansion is at a big disadvantage when both municipalities are trying to reach the same goal. It’s disturbing to me because obviously Massena has been trying to extend its runway for larger airplanes, and we have already been deemed by the county as a regional airport. I don’t see where it’s conducive to have two airports vying for the same expansion.”

Mr. Gray said OBPA’s planned expansion would only give St. Lawrence County “two mediocre airports,” noting the planned expansion in Ogdensburg would give them a runway the same size as one already in Massena.

“It’s going to cost them $10 million to expand the runway. How much extra is it going to cost to move a state highway? When it’s all said and done you’ll have an airport with severe limitations and you’ll have an airport that has exactly what Massena has, except ours has better instrumentation and a newer terminal.”

Mr. Gray then suggested something he said fell on deaf ears at his meeting with the OBPA two years ago, hiring an independent firm to conduct a study, look at the two airports and decide which one would be a better location for a regional airport.

He also suggested that St. Lawrence County’s airport situation might be something the Regional Economic Development Council could take a look at.

“I think this would be a perfect opportunity for the Regional Economic Development Council to sit down with us and help us come up with a way to do an objective study to determine which airport to focus on.”

Mr. Hidy said now that the OBPA has made this announcement the town of Massena finds itself trying to push for something they should have been doing “many years ago.”

Noting that the OBPA is supposed to be a regional authority, Mr. Hidy said the town should have approached them for money to use at the Massena airport.

“I don’t think the town has been aggressive enough in approaching the OBPA for funding,” he said, noting this is an issue that should have been tackled long before now, noting this goes back to “before Mr. Gray took office. I think if the Massena Town Board is serious about being in the airport business, now is the time for them to make a commitment to the expansion of our airport.”Mr. Gray though, said it’s not that easy.

“We could borrow $15 million tomorrow to expand the runway, build a new hangar and make our airport the best it could possibly be, but where would we come up with the revenue to repay the debt?”

Mr. Gray noted as it stands now the Massena airport loses roughly $250,000 per year.

“I think the OBPA is even worse. I believe they’re losing $400,000 per year, but the biggest difference is the taxpayers of Massena pay for our airport, while the deep pockets of the OBPA pay for their airport.”

Mr. Gray also countered Mr. Hidy’s statement that the town had been dragging its fee, by reiterating his previous statement about borrowing $15 million.

“No one is dragging their feet,” he said. “It is all a matter of how you want to do business. Do you borrow money to pay for things you can’t afford with no means other than property taxes to pay it back?” he again asked.

Mr. Hidy did acknowledge that he feels like Ogdensburg’s airport expansion is good news for Ogdensburg and St. Lawrence County, but he said he feels like, should their plans come to fruition, it could be the end of the airport in Massena.

“I don’t see how the airport can continue losing money each year and compete against a larger airport that’s only half an hour away, should their expansion plan, by design, attract a major carrier,” he said, adding he would like to see the OBPA assist Massena in its efforts.

“I think the OBPA is an authority that should serve not just Ogdensburg, because of it’s name, but all of St. Lawrence County,” he said.

While the debate of which airport to expand may sound like a turf war, Mr. Gray said that is not the case.

“It’s not a matter of jealousy and it’s not a turf war, it’s about practicality. It makes no sense for them to continue on this path,” he said. “If an independent study find that Ogdensburg is the better choice, I have no problem with that. It’s a regional airport 35 miles away. That would be great.”

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