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Charlotte Chamber ‘disappointed’ with handling of airport authority push

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TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
US Airways jets are parked at the terminal at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Tuesday, May 7, 2013. TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com/ Aboard NBC Charlotte's AirStar

The Charlotte Chamber said in a message to city and state leaders that it is “disappointed” with how the push to establish a new, regional airport authority was started and has been handled.

The business group called on leaders to reach consensus on the authority issue, and said they should use the recommendations from a city-funded study that called for Charlotte to have a majority of the appointments on an authority board.

“We are disappointed in how this issue, which affects the number one economic development asset in our city and region, was initiated and has been dealt with,” the Chamber said, in a message from its executive committee released Tuesday.

“We do not know the answer to the question of the airport’s best governance model,” said the statement. “We do want to encourage the City of Charlotte and the North Carolina General Assembly to work together to address this question collaboratively and with a business-minded approach, with the goal being to maintain the Charlotte airport as one of the most efficient and best performing airports to be found.”

A bill to transfer control and ownership of the airport from the city to a new, independent authority has passed the state Senate and is awaiting action in the N.C. House. Legislators could hold a final vote this month.

Supporters of a new authority have said that the airport must be “de-politicized” and that the city is driving up costs for US Airways, endangering the city’s hub status. They have stressed that the airport will still serve Charlotte even if an authority runs it.

“By the way, Charlotte is not selling the airport,” developer and authority proponent Johnny Harris told a Chamber luncheon audience Tuesday. “All the politics you’re reading about, I really don’t care as long as they get it right and leave it alone and don’t do anything except continue to make that airport, and the new intermodal facility that’s going there, the No. 1 economic development tool in both Carolinas.”

Aviation Director Jerry Orr, a city employee who has run the airport since 1989, has also said he supports creating an independent authority.

The city strongly opposes the current bill, however. Charlotte City Manager Ron Carlee has said it could throw the airport into “chaos.” City Council voted Monday to “vigorously” oppose the transfer of Charlotte Douglas International Airport to an authority, which could hint at a potential lawsuit to block the bill.

The Chamber message underscores tensions between Charlotte and the state legislature that have grown this year. In February, Chamber President Bob Morgan and Charlotte Regional Partnership Chief Executive Ronnie Bryant called on leaders to minimize public displays of acrimony.

The Chamber’s message Tuesday also said the group feels “displeasure that the recommendations of a city-funded consultant’s report have not been implemented.”

The city consultant recommended an authority to run the airport, but said Charlotte should have more seats on the board and that the process of creating an authority should be more carefully considered.

The current bill under consideration by the House would create an 11-member authority with seven made by the surrounding counties and the General Assembly.

Charlotte Chamber spokeswoman Natalie Dick declined to elaborate on the memo. “We recognize that neither those for nor those against an authority will be satisfied with our position,” said the Chamber’s message. Staff Writer Deon Roberts contributed.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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