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Regional counties jump into airport fray, support regional board

Several counties in the Charlotte region are inserting themselves into the fight for control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Commissioners in Union, Iredell, Gaston and Lincoln counties recently expressed support for legislation in Raleigh to wrest control of the airport from the city of Charlotte and give it to a regional airport authority. Cabarrus County is likely to consider a resolution of support next week.

All of those counties would get to appoint someone to an independent, 13-member regional authority board under the legislation.

Charlotte strongly opposes the bill, but that hasn’t stopped its neighbors from voicing support. There were no votes on the various boards against the resolutions.

“Currently, we are all on the outside looking in,” said Union County Commissioner Todd Johnson, who proposed the resolution his board adopted. “Because the airport deeply affects us, we want a seat at the table.”

The airport, he added, is a significant part of the economy for the entire region, not just for Charlotte.

Gaston County board Chair Mickey Price agreed, saying, “The airport is a big asset to our county, and we’d like to have a say in how it’s run. … We want to see that it’s run well.”

The state Senate approved the regional authority bill last month, but the legislation is unlikely to come up for a vote by the full House before next month, which gives Charlotte’s city council time to study the plan.

The city hired a consultant to examine the airport’s governance and how similar airports operate. That study is due May 1.

Charlotte city spokeswoman Kim McMillan declined to comment on the counties’ resolutions because the consultant’s study is not finished. Charlotte Douglas has a budget of more than $400 million and is one of the busiest airports in the country.

The counties did not express interest in actively lobbying for the bill beyond the resolutions they offered.

Leaders in Iredell and Lincoln counties said they also wanted assurances that the bill’s language would be cleaned up in the House to make it clear that the new authority would have no control over their regional airports.

Lincoln County board Chair Alex Patton said commissioners did not choose sides until the Senate passed the bill and the county wanted to be sure the bill would only affect Charlotte Douglas. “We have to protect our own interests,” Patton said. “We need that (wording) change to protect our airport.”

Iredell board Chair Steve Johnson said he received assurances from area legislators and Charlotte airport advisory board Chair Shawn Dorsch that the wording would be changed in the House.

Being part of a regional authority will allow Iredell County to have some influence over the transportation needs of its residents, Johnson said.

Patton said Lincoln County’s proximity to Charlotte Douglas helps in recruiting businesses to the area.

“It’s a regional asset that has grown so much, it’s no longer just the city of Charlotte’s,” he said. “I’d think Charlotte has enough on their plate without trying to run an airport in their spare time.”

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