WASHINGTON – The Greater Cumberland Regional Airport took a step closer Friday to approval of a $10 million loan that airport officials say they desperately need for expansion.
A House Judiciary subcommittee gave its blessing Friday to the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority, which must be approved by Congress before the airport can receive the federal loan.
“We really need this legislation enacted now,” said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Frederick. “The airport cannot expand without it.”
The subcommittee, which last week canceled its hearing on the airport while it focused on the release of President Clinton’s deposition tapes, approved the measure Friday during a 15-minute break from hearings on the scandal.
The Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law approved the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority bill on a voice vote.
The Senate unanimously approved the legislation July 31. The airport authority must still be approved by the House Judiciary Committee and the full House.
“This action will make the airport authority credible in the eyes of our creditors,” said James Stahl, chairman of the authority.
Stahl has said the airport is losing $350,000 a year. Airport officials said they have a waiting list for hangar space, however, and hope to get back in the black with the $10 million expansion, which calls for the construction of 20 hangars.
The airport was built in 1944, three miles south of Cumberland in West Virginia, which happened to have the flattest land in the vicinity.
“It is hard to find land suitable for an airport because of the mountainous terrain,” Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Baltimore, said Friday.
Because it was located in one state and owned by another, the Potomac Highlands Airport Authority was formed in 1976 to operate the facility.
“With two states, two counties and two municipalities having jurisdiction over different aspects of the airport and enforcing different laws, taxing authorities and regulation, it was difficult, at best,” to run the airport smoothly, said Sarbanes.
But when they went to apply for a Department of Agriculture loan for the expansion, airport officials learned that the authority had to be approved by Congress before they could get federal funds.
The legislation has enjoyed “the support of the senators from both states and the members of Congress from the districts concerned,” said Bartlett.
Sarbanes agreed, saying that the bill is not controversial and is supported by both parties.
“What we really need now is congressional approval so that the authority can move forward,” said Sarbanes.
Both Sarbanes and Bartlett said they will push for approval before Congress adjourns Oct. 9.