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FAA to raceway: Show us the money

Annie Zelm • Mar 30, 2011 at 11:12 AM

(UPDATED AT 11:15 A.M.) The Federal Aviation Administration may allow the Huron County Airport to close temporarily to accommodate events at the neighboring raceway.

But first the agency wants the raceway to pony up.

In a letter sent last week to the Huron County Airport, the FAA suggested Summit Motorsports Park should pay the airport nearly $35,800 to use its runway during high-attendance days at the raceway.

The sporadic closures would ease the flow of traffic in and out of the raceway during five popular races.

The suggested price tag doesn’t include the costs of cleanup, repairs or staff who may be needed during the closure, FAA spokeswoman Stephanie Swann said.

The recommended payment represents the amount the county had contributed to the airport each year from 2006 through 2008.

It also covers the local match the airport needs to tap into half of the $600,000 in pre-approved federal funds the airport could receive for improvements.

Huron County commissioners were outraged by the letter, calling it inaccurate and full of hostile undertones.

Furthermore, the FAA appears to be overstepping its boundaries by telling a local business what to do, commissioners said.

Even the airport board’s president, Dennis Sokol, said the letter was disappointing.

According to the letter, the FAA initially considered recommending that Summit Motorsports Park charge its fans an extra $3 per ticket to pay for the inconvenience of closing the airport.

The FAA reached this decision after learning the raceway offered discounts of nearly $3 per ticket to its fans to entice them to send comments in support of the proposed closures, the FAA letter said. 

Summit Motorsports Park did circulate a newsletter last month encouraging fans to write to the FAA during a public comment period on the issue.

The newsletter also publicized discounted rates for fans who purchased tickets early, but park president Bill Bader Jr. said the two announcements weren’t related. The park frequently offers special discounts to fans.

Most of the comments submitted to the FAA favored temporary closures of the airport, citing the major economic benefits to both the region and the airport. About 10 percent of roughly 400 comments opposed the closure altogether, according to the FAA.

Commissioner Larry Silcox said the FAA’s claim that Summit bribed its fans is only one of the letter’s inaccuracies.

The letter also included incorrect figures about the county’s contributions to the airport, he said. County records indicate commissioners contributed $20,000 per year to the airport from 2006 to 2008 — not $35,800 per year.

“For someone at the federal level to have inaccurate information is unacceptable,” commissioner Gary Bauer said.

No one from the FAA even contacted commissioners to verify the facts, he added.

Commissioners said they plan to appeal the letter and point out the inaccuracies.

They contacted U.S. Rep. Bob Latta’s office and also spoke to U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s representative, who stopped by at Tuesday’s meeting.

Sokol said he was also frustrated by the FAA’s response.

The FAA took a similar position last year, Sokol said, which ultimately convinced Summit Motorsports Park not to use the airport for its major events.

Sokol plans to contact the region’s FAA program manager to see if the agency will allow any flexibility on the financial requirements.

In order for the FAA to approve the closure — regardless of the financial demands — the commissioners and the raceway must both submit a plan detailing the safety risks of closing the airport. The plan is due 30 days before the first racing event on May 14.

To see the FAA's letter, click the document below.

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