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Lawmaker: Pass Charlotte Airport Bill Now, Work Out Details Later

Julie Rose

  State Representative William Brawley has declared negotiations with the city of Charlotte at "an impasse" over who will control the airport. On Tuesday, Brawley brought a revised version of his bill to create a regional authority for the Charlotte airport to the House Transportation Committee. It passed. 

"Just hold on and let's study this thing some more," has been the plea of Charlotte city leaders eager to retain control of the airport. But according to Matthews Republican William Brawley, state lawmakers and the city can't even agree on how that study would happen.

"Unfortunately, I think what we have to do is go ahead and implement the authority and let those negotiations take out between the authority and the city of Charlotte," Brawley told the house committee. 

Representative Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat, said she's "uncomfortable" saying "just do it now and let it be worked out with this authority . . . I'm concerned about that if we sever the artery if there's going to be full bleeding or if there's going to be a tourniquet waiting to stop it." 

The latest version of the airport authority bill includes several recommendations from the consultant Charlotte hired to study the issue. It details more of the logistics in transitioning from a city department to an independent airport authority. It also shrinks the size of the governing board from 13 down to 11 members. (The new version eliminates the governor's appointment to the board and one at-large seat.)

But the bill does not give Charlotte additional appointment power, as the consultant suggested. The city would only get to choose two of the board members. The state House and Senate would each make one appointment. Mecklenburg County would get one.  As would each of the five counties surrounding Mecklenburg - Lincoln, Gaston, Union, Cabarrus and Iredell. 

Charlotte Democrat Rodney Moore is troubled those counties will have such a presence on the airport authority board when none of them has contributed to the airport's success.

 "This is no more than a takeover, or a grab, from the city of Charlotte to the region who has historically had not any skin in the game as far as nurturing this airport," said Moore.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport has been owned by the city and operated as a city department for nearly 80 years. 

But Representative Brawley says the airport is important to the entire region's economic success and should be managed as a regional asset.  An airport authority "will reduce the political influence of any one group," Brawley says. 

Namely Charlotte officials, who, Brawley believes have begun to eye the airport as a piggy bank for future city projects.  The measure must clear one more committee before going to a full vote of the State House, where Brawley says it will pass.

State senators must sign off on changes made in the House, after which the bill would take immediate effect and the transfer to a Charlotte Regional Airport Authority would begin.