Government

Regional airport authority OK’d by Legislature

Kent County commissioners now must work out details of the independent authority.

June 26, 2015
| By Pete Daly |
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The proposed regional airport authority to run Gerald R. Ford International Airport is definitely moving forward, but it still has a long runway ahead.

The Michigan Legislature has approved enabling legislation that allows creation of an independent regional authority to run the county-owned airport, rather than direct control by Kent County government.

Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature is required on the legislation but is seen as a done deal.

Last week the Kent County Board of Commissioners voted to proceed with establishment of a regional airport authority. The idea has been in the works almost two years, and came from the general consensus that GFIA is more of a regional entity than just a county airport.

Business and economic organizations in West Michigan suggested an independent entity to run it with the reasoning that such a panel would be able to react faster to market changes and in a less constricted manner than an elected government body.

The proposed airport authority board will also include at least one individual who lives in one of the adjoining counties in the region.

Kent County Corporate Counsel Tom Dempsey has been working on a draft of the articles of incorporation for the regional airport authority, which also has been worked on by the transition committee appointed by the county board to help smooth the changeover from a county government entity to a regional entity.

The transition group includes members of both the Kent County commission and the existing Kent County airport board.

The draft of the articles of incorporation will be reviewed by the commissioners July 14, and Dempsey said the county board may set a public hearing on it for July 30.

He said the board may consider adoption of the articles Aug. 27.

Once approved by the county board, members of the new regional airport authority board will be named by the end of 2015, and then begin negotiations with Kent County on a lease of the airport property and other agreements required for a transfer of management.

Dempsey said issues to be worked out in the articles of incorporation will include the number of airport authority board members, their ability to issue debt, and perhaps procedural rules such as a super-majority required for use of eminent domain to acquire adjoining property for future airport expansion.

The Federal Aviation Administration will also have to approve the change in airport management, and the new authority will have to honor requirements of all grants the FAA has made to the airport.

Dempsey said county officials are aiming to complete the transition of all airport operations to a regional authority by July 1, 2016.

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