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A large crowd turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony for the water and sewer extension project for the new Appalachian Regional Air Park at Varney. U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito spoke to those present about the importance of infrastructure projects such as this and how they encourage future economic development to the area. The new airport replaces the former airport in Williamson which closed last Friday.

Federal, state and county officials joined representatives from the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority and other agencies last week at the new Air Transportation Park at Varney to break ground for a long-awaited utilities addition project.

The $2.6 million infrastructure project entails a waterline extension of 1,600 feet, a sewage holding facility, a 125 gallons per minute booster station, radio telemetry and a water storage tank with a nearly 500,000-gallon storage capacity.

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The start of the project comes nearly seven years after the airport was declared opened in 2012. In the interim, the old Mingo County Airport in Williamson remained open until the Mingo County Airport Authority officially ceased operations there on May 31.

Officials said this latest project was funded, in part, by a federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, with local matching funds having been provided by the MCRA and the Mingo County Commission.

Addressing a crowd of about 50 people, MCRA Executive Director Leasha Johnson said the completion of the airport is essential to the county’s continued economic diversification goals which began in earnest just after the turn of the new century and millennium.

“The Redevelopment Authority, in 2003, implemented the Mingo County Land Use Master Plan, and that plan allowed us to coordinate/cooperate with coal companies to create these types of development sites,” she said.

By partnering with these coal companies at the beginning of their mining operations, as well as after operations had ceased and the reclamation process had begun, Johnson said, the companies were then permitted to release those properties so these types of development projects could begin.

Following supportive and congratulatory statements read by representatives from the offices of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S Rep. Carol Miller, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito took the podium and, like Johnson, credited the completion of major economic diversification projects such as the Air Transportation Park to cooperation and partnerships.

“Partnerships is where we have the greatest amount of success because not one single entity…not the Redevelopment Authority, not the Commission, not federal dollars, not state dollars, not this senator or that senator, not one entity can do millions and millions of dollars of projects,” she said. “And so with perseverance, patience, and ingenuity and everyone working together, is why we’re here today to do the groundbreaking on this project.”

In a visibly emotional statement, Mingo County Commission President Diann Hannah reminded those in attendance that the airport, as well as other development projects in Mingo County, can be credited to former MCRA Executive Director Mike Whitt, who passed away suddenly in 2011.

“Mike wasn’t just a director, he was a hands-on guy and I appreciate everything he’s done for Mingo County,” Hannah said. “I just didn’t want this day to go by without giving him the credit. Even though he’s not here with us, I know he’s smiling down right now.”

Johnson said the Air Transportation Park project itself was a collaboration between the MCRA, Nicewonder Contracting, the Mingo County Airport Authority, the WV Aeronautics Commission, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

“It was quite the undertaking, but we’ve been very fortunate to have had development partners and we implemented that very innovative public/private partnership to accomplish this type of development,” she said.

Although the airport opened in 2012, Johnson said obtaining funding to complete additional necessary projects at the facility has been anything but an easy endeavor in the subsequent seven years.

“There were years’ worth of literally begging for federal money to extend water and sewage to this location ... we didn’t meet any traditional funding models because we didn’t have any users but we didn’t have any users because we didn’t have the infrastructure,” she said. “It very much was a chicken and egg scenario for us.”

Johnson said the project’s fortunes began to change in 2016 when the U.S Economic Development Administration, through its economic adjustment program, identified and secured funds for assisting coal-impacted communities.

“We were finally able to qualify for the necessary funding to get started with this important infrastructure project,” she said.

The sewage treatment facility being funded for this project will only serve the FBO (fixed base operator) office, which Johnson said the airport authority will be constructing in the near future.

Because sufficient grant funding could not be secured to extend both water and sewer lines, she said either individual sewage treatment facilities will be installed or future grant funding will be sought to extend public sewer to the airport.

Chojnacki Construction was awarded the waterline extension and sewage portions of the project, with work on these set to begin this week.

Mid-Atlantic Storage Systems was awarded the water storage tank project and is scheduled to begin construction on this phase in August or September.

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