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State steps up for airports

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The Virginia Aviation Board agreed to pick up lost federal funding for capital projects so local governnments would not have to bear a larger portion of the costs. Dennis Grundman/Daily

Virginia Aviation Board agrees to pick up lost federal funding for capital projects

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The Virginia Aviation Board voted on a measure last week that will affect the city and Frederick County governments, and Winchester Regional Airport, for many months to come.

After a move by President Obama to decrease the level of federal funding for qualifying airport capital improvement projects from 95 to 90 percent, airport Executive Director Renny Manuel was worried about local governments having to pick up the financial slack.

But on Feb. 16, the board voted to increase the state's participation level from 3 to 8 percent, so local governments can remain at their 2 percent contribution, Manuel wrote in an email.

Alex Vogel, who represents Winchester Regional Airport and many other localities on the board, said he was not at the meeting for the vote but was glad it turned out the way it did.

"These airports are huge economic drivers for the commonwealth," Vogel said. "That airport drives a lot of activity. ... If the feds are going to change their rule a little bit, given the reality of what's going on economically, having the department pick up that difference is worth it."

He said he heard from Manuel and many other area airport officials since the issue arose between the past board meeting and the one before, requesting that the state board consider picking up the difference.

While he's glad the board honored those requests, there is a downside to the change.
"It may mean that there are some projects we can't fund," Vogel said. "But for those projects that we are able to fund, it's important that the burden on the localities not be so great that they can't get those projects off the ground."

Work on the main runway at Winchester Regional Airport that lasted from early September until mid-December and cost more than $7.5 million was one of those projects that would've been affected by these funding changes. Manuel said airport officials are considering many such federally funded projects for the near future, including the acquisition of 17 nearby plots of land.

"We sincerely appreciate the Virginia Aviation Board's support in ensuring the continued growth and development of Virginia airports by raising their funding participation level rather than passing the financial burden on to local governments that are already struggling to cover other federal and state revenue losses," Manuel wrote in an email.

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