WASHINGTON – A proposed $10 million loan to the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport took a backseat to the Clinton scandal on Capitol Hill Thursday.
A House Judiciary subcommittee canceled its hearing on the airport because it was tied up all day debating whether to release President Clinton’s deposition tapes.
“This is just an example of how destructive it [the Clinton scandal] is,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. “We can’t get the loan until this hearing takes place.”
The Greater Cumberland Regional Airport is losing about $350,000 a year and needs the federal loan for an expansion that airport officials hope will help them become self-sufficient.
But the Department of Agriculture has refused to approve the loan because the airport, which is owned by Maryland, is located in West Virginia. The Constitution demands that Congress ratifies a bi-state compact to govern the airport before it can get federal funding, the department said.
The airport has been governed since 1976 by the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority, a bi-state agency, but that compact has not been approved by Congress.
That was not a problem until the airport authority attempted to fund a 20-year, $10 million airport expansion program.
“We need the money to build 20 hangars because we have a waiting list for two dozen aircraft,” for the airport, said James G. Stahl, chairman of the airport authority.
The airport, built in 1944, was located three miles south of Cumberland in West Virginia because the “flattest area around Cumberland happened to be in West Virginia,” said Stahl.
He said the airport is now losing $350,000 annually, but the loan could help it out of its financial troubles.
“The idea is to get the airport to be self-sufficient,” he said.
Bartlett said the resolution does not face any opposition and it should pass easily, if and when the Judiciary Committee finds the time to hear it.
“It is difficult for us to legislate because attention focused on this [Clinton] issue gets in the way of other legislation,” said Bartlett. “We can’t get the loan until this hearing takes place.”
Thursday’s planned hearing before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law has not been rescheduled but Bartlett said he expects it to take place in the next couple of weeks.