Chancellor Thorp on HWA Closure: Not until we have to…

UNC’s Chancellor Holden Thorp takes a postion (“Carolina North: A Glass Half-Full Perspective”) on Horace-William Airport’s closure.

One of the most vexing issues, though, has been the future of Horace Williams Airport. As you know, it occupies the heart of the Carolina North acreage. It’s the flattest part of the tract and, therefore, the best place to build Carolina North. So we have to close it.

Now, I realize it doesn’t take a lot of analysis to figure out that closing the airport is important for the future of Carolina North. But figuring out HOW to close the airport . . . that’s another story.

Ultimately, I think it comes down to this. The AHEC program is an extremely important asset to this University and to our state. Our doctors, nurses, other health professionals, and our MedAir pilots are as committed public servants as you will find. The work they do and the service they provide are fundamental to who we are as a university. And we are telling them that we have to close their airport to build Carolina North.

I have analyzed all the options, and I’m convinced that we really do have to close the airport to make Carolina North all that it must be. I’m equally convinced that we should fully support the airport authority authorized by the General Assembly as the best way to pursue creation of an airport in Orange County. It gives the county zoning authority, and it turns over the siting and development to a public body with greater expertise than we have.

For AHEC and MedAir, I think a move to RDU for the short-term is workable. But for the long-term, we owe it to our doctors to appoint the airport authority to see if there’s a better alternative.

We have said all along that we wouldn’t close Horace Williams Airport until we had to. With today’s challenging economic climate, we anticipate that funding for initial Carolina North construction likely will be delayed. Our state appropriation for planning and infrastructure for the Law School relocation to Carolina North is frozen, at least for now. And Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc., our partner for the Innovation Center, has put new projects on hold, although they have affirmed their interest in our project.

So, as I posted last night, the University maintains their stance that closure is contingent on Carolina North’s building projects moving forward.

I am disappointed that Holden continues to maintain that the only path to serving AHEC’s needs involves a new general aviation facility. This fixation makes no sense at this point and counters UNC’s own consultant’s recommendations to move AHEC to RDU.

Holden is “convinced that we should fully support the airport authority authorized by the General Assembly as the best way to pursue creation of an airport in Orange County. ”

Sure, the airport authority, with the sovereign powers the State granted it, is probably the best way to get an airport built in Orange County over local residents’ objections.

Where, though, is his concern for the Authority’s other duty – to factually justify the necessity of a general aviation facility? The Authority’s duty to “support the missions of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill or the University of North Carolina Health Care System” has to balance against the significant local impacts, the $60-100 million price tag, the infrastructure costs shoved onto local residents.

I applaud Holden’s willingness to engage the community in the discussion via his ‘blog. I wish other local officials took a lesson from him.

I already left him a comment on his post. I hope folks weigh in with their thoughtful and considered input.

Hat tip to Fred Black for highlighting Holden’s comments.


One response to “Chancellor Thorp on HWA Closure: Not until we have to…”

  1. Administrator Avatar

    Here’s the comment I left on Holden’s ‘blog:

    Holden, a few quick points.

    One, the economic justification for siting a new airport in Orange County are not supportable at this point in time. The Talbert/Bright 2008 draft economic report is, frankly, a joke. It is embarrassing that a great institution like UNC maintains that this report’s projections are credible. Reality is a necessary component to this process.

    Two, the Authority cannot be staffed exclusively with folks that have “better expertise” in airport development. Local residents deserve not only a seat at the table but enough of a presence to sway the decision-making process. In the end, a balanced approach, pulling talented individuals with informed opinions across the spectrum, will better serve the interests of both the University and the State’s citizenry.

    Third, Talbert-Bright has said twice now that AHEC’s future is at RDU. While I support AHEC’s mission and am completely open-minded on improving their ability to serve our State’s needs, continuing to use AHEC as a justification for creating a new general aviation facility doesn’t wash.

    Finally, here’s a link to a chronology of UNC positions on HWA’s growth and usage.

    It’s an interesting course that UNC has charted over the years.

    Thank you for posting your thoughts on HWA (and entertaining commentary). I look forward to seeing the evolution of your and the University’s thinking on this issue.

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