Down River – Dec. 31, 2015

What Do You Think?

It was surprising to recently learn that City of Lock Haven operation of the William T. Piper Memorial Airport will likely cost city taxpayers nearly $70,000 to cover the projected deficit to keep it flying (bad play on words) in 2016.

Airport manager Ed Watson provided city council an update on airport costs at a council budget session earlier this month.   He talked about creative ways to lower that projected deficit likely to result from estimated 2016 expenses of $298,000 but income of only $229,804. Watson termed the airport a predominately recreational-flying airport and noted decreased activity in recent years.

He offered some ominous news: three T hangars are now available for rent and sit empty and some of the airplanes presently on site at the airport are for sale. To produce new revenue Watson talked of renting out space for non-aviation purposes, including storage for boats and recreation vehicles in the winter.

We all recall when the flood protection system was built a couple decades back and the airport was safely inside, city officials trumpeted the possibility of a business park there. That obviously has not come to fruition and now the facility is losing money.

So how long does the city wait for the airport to not be a financial liability? If local interest in general aviation is on the wane, how does the city justify operating the airport at a loss?

Down River checked in with someone who has monitored this situation for some years. He intimated the last couple years of a deficit operation may not be permanent. He said it would be “short-sighted” to sell off the property, calling the airport an economic driver, citing some aviation-related businesses still functioning there. He also said some outside-the-area employers use the airport for visits to their local facilities.

Long term our airport mole said the Piper airport is worth the investment. He also said if it were sold off the city would be responsible for reimbursement for some recent federally funded upgrades.

Yes, it’s heresy to suggest the city get out of the airport business; yes Lock Haven and its Piper Aircraft past are synonymous with general aviation history. Yes, the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven is a wonderful annual tribute to that history.

Yes, the community would not relish seeing the airport shut down. But if it becomes a continuing burden on an already-cash strapped city, Lock Haven officials have a responsibility to city taxpayers to look at other options for the vast airport acreage. The city year by year is losing more and more of its taxable land. The airport site would make for a tax base bonanza if it were to be placed on the tax rolls and house a new employer or two.

There is some irony in that Bill Baney is about to become Lock Haven’s next mayor. Older local residents will recall his late father’s long ago outspoken stand against any further incursion of the then-Piper operations into the adjoining residential area at the lower end of town.

We’ll watch with interest to see how new mayor Baney responds, now that Piper is long gone and the airport is operating at a loss. Is it time to see if that acreage could be put to better use?

Your move, your honor-elect.

Something Old, Something New:

The something old is Renovo, about to turn 150 in the new year. And the something new will be The Record’s very own quixotic columnist Lou Bernard and his latest undertaking; a sesquicentennial look at western Clinton County’s pre-eminent (and only) borough.

You will find Lou’s offerings every week starting next week in The Record’s print edition and his “Renovo at 150” will also be updated weekly in therecord-online. Columnist Lou will time his weekly offerings to end in late May of next year to coincide with the 150th Renovo incorporation anniversary, dating to May 26, 1866.

The Record has had a look at his first rendering and we don’t want to divulge too much too soon, but Renovo column number one confirms what we believed to be the origin of the name Renovo. As Lou writes, “Renovo is Latin for renewal or rebirth;” this, he notes, ties in with the repairing and renewing of railroad cars, the occupation which carried the borough through its formative years and for well over its first century.

So his first offering in next week’s paper will celebrate the birth of Renovo. The Record, born in Renovo back in 1872, is proud to document the town’s past; this as we all look forward to the exciting progress about to unfold exactly where the old Philadelphia & Erie Railroad first put down those rail industry roots a century and a half or so ago.

It goes without saying this prospective new development looks to be leading to rebirth number two for Renovo and environs.

Something Also Old:

Has it really been a year since Down River offered its first look at the ongoing sparring in the several years’ old effort to get some commercial development at Bellefonte Avenue and Commerce Street in Lock Haven?

Yes, it was a year ago to the day this column noted that local larger-than-life personalities Steve Poorman and Lee Roberts were seeing their money-driven differences move into the local court system. And yes, here we are a year later, and their differences seem no closer to resolution as that ungodly tract of land at the Bellefonte Avenue-Commerce Street intersection continues to sit and rot.

So what do you think the odds are that Down River next year at this time will be writing about the same scenario, Poorman vs. Roberts, Round 27? I’d say pretty good.