FAA to terminate control tower lease in 2019

WHEELING — The Federal Aviation Administration informed Ohio County officials Tuesday it will no longer lease the air traffic control tower at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport after the current lease agreement expires in two years.

During Tuesday’s Ohio County Commission meeting, Administrator Greg Stewart presented commissioners with the registered letter from the FAA received by Airport Manager Russell Escue earlier in the day. The letter tells county officials the lease “shall not be renewed and will terminate effective Sept. 30, 2019.”

Stewart said there are two controllers who work at the airport between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. each day, and during the off hours the air traffic control is conducted by an automated system.

Previously, there were air traffic controllers in the tower at the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport at all times, Stewart explained. The FAA proposed eliminating them completely, but with the help of former U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, a private contract was secured to keep controllers there 12 hours each day.

“We don’t know all the details yet — it literally just came in today,” Stewart said Tuesday. “But it sounds like after Sept. 30, 2019, we might not have air traffic controllers up there, which is not unusual at a lot of small airports across the country.”

Stewart said having the controllers there makes things safer at the airport, where the runways are crossed and not linear.

In other matters before the commission, Southwest Energy will pay the county $579,700 for a right-of-way to place a water line across property at the county farm. The water line will be 3,740 feet long, and once installed Southwest Energy no longer will have to truck water to their drilling sites in the area, according to Stewart.

The only piece of major infrastructure damaged during recent flooding in Ohio County was a pump station on Peters Run Road, and the retaining wall behind it. Vaughn, Coast and Vaughn engineers have estimated the cost of replacing the pumps and wall at $132,600, and commissioners approved the expense Tuesday night.

Stewart said the county will continue to press for reimbursement through insurance and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Commissioners also approved allocations of hotel-motel tax funding to the following events: the West Virginia Secondary Schools Athletic Commission Super Six Championships, $20,000; the state high school golf championship this month, $4,000; and the North Wheeling Youth Center charity basketball game in November, $1,250.

The Ohio County Development Authority met prior to the commission meeting, and approved lease agreements with two new tenants at The Highlands, although their identities have not been announced.

A retail development will move into the former rue 21 building, while a food establishment will open in the space previously occupied by Starbucks. Also approved was a lease renewal with Cold Stone Creamery.