NC Friends of Horace Williams Airport
PO Box 33877, Charlotte, NC 28233
Remarks to the Chapel Hill Town Council January 23, 2008
Some Considerations in Evaluating Proposed UNC Innovation Center on Horace Williams Property
1) The proposal WOULD so marginalize the airport that UNC will be required to close the airport after construction, which Dr. Moeser has announced to be its intent. FAA regulations would not allow ongoing operations this near an occupied building if construction were accomplished as proposed.
2) UNC has operated THE airport for Chapel Hill and Orange County since 1939 (the property was the town’s airport for 11 years prior to that- we’re talking 80 years’ worth of Town and aviation history), and UNC acts like it wants out of the airport business entirely despite its representations to the media and to the General Assembly that it wants a replacement airport.
3) This position would be directly counter to the warning language directed to UNC by the NC House Appropriations Committee on Education late in 2007, wherein it told UNC that it shouldn’t consider closure until and unless there is a suitable, operational general aviation airport within easy distance of UNC. Dr. Moeser SAYS that he wishes to close Horace Williams after constructing the new AHEC hangar at RDU, after which UNC will participate in the effort to build a new airport. Ladies and gentlemen, the new airport aspect of these statements is simply eyewash, a construct by UNC administration so as to be able to say one thing to the legislature and another entirely to you in seeking zoning approval.
4) A replacement airport cannot be constructed in Orange County. If it were, it would cost someone else (the federal government, which is properly averse to airport projects esp. where a beautifully-situated, historic airport has just been bulldozed) $30-55 million to construct and would take 10 years. That makes the University’s statements that it proposes to help sponsor a new airport a nugatory exercise, form without substance. Dr. Moeser, his staff and his Trustees know 1) that a new airport will be hugely expensive 2) that someone else’s money (Federal airport dollars) would have to pay for it and 3) that it would happen only after they are all living in a retirement community. We submit to you that there is little easier than speculating that something will be built with someone else’s funds when one has no downside and doesn’t have to deliver such an undertaking.
5) UNC’s previous5 Chancellors (Sitterson, Taylor, Fordham, Hardin and Hooker) nurtured the leading, caring AHEC program, one of the premier medical outreach programs nationally. One of the huge positives from AHEC is its ability to deliver doctors to diverse places in a geographically quite large state and this positive would be substantially reduced in the event of airport closure. AHEC doctors who have bravely spoken out against the University’s failure of stewardship say they cannot possibly continue patient and clinical work at the level at which they currently operate if forced to fly from RDU. They testified to this problem to the aforementioned House subcommittee last June. And in a meeting with those doctors in October, Chancellor Moeser began by stating that he now understands why AHEC cannot be expected to operate from RDU on a permanent basis.
6) That AHEC air program delivers specialist physicians to more than 15,000 patients in distant parts of the state each year, and is worth well over $90 million dollars per year million in patient billings generated because the airplanes allow doctors to get where they need to be when they need to be there. Physicians using the AHEC air operations say the hospitals may very well stand to lose 25% of such billings if the forces of nature are allowed to take their course. The dollar implications could go as high as $30-35 million in lost Hospitals revenue if Horace Williams were closed. That revenue, of course, inures to the benefit of Chapel Hill and Orange County as well. This indirect economic impact is the 500-pound gorilla, the $64,000,000 question, and ultimately the biggest unquantifiable in the whole airport equation. It is impossible for NCFHWA and for anyone else, we believe, to understand why UNC has given this aspect of the problem so little analysis and has stepped on the necks of the directly-affected medical professionals who have dared to point out the obvious: that Horace Williams’ closure would have a major negative effect on the health care UNC is able to deliver around the state of NC. Indirectly but no less substantially, that effect would be felt in Chapel Hill in the form of smaller hospital billings, fewer doctors working in the statewide outreach programs, less spending by NC citizens when they come to CH for followup medical care, and an inevitable erosion in the capabilities of AHEC to serve the public.
7) Prior to constructing anything on the airport boundaries, the University should be required:
a) to demonstrate that the new construction would not reduce the utility of the airport and thus not run counter to UNC’s representations to the House subcommittee. This requires determinations and affirmative undertakings by the University that FAA standards for normal and instrument-conditions approaches to the airport will not be breached or compromised in the course of constructing the Innovation Center;
b) not to close Horace Williams pending airport replacement (the position taken by the General Assembly in enacted legislation in 2004 and 2006), not merely a move to RDU; and
c) otherwise, to incorporate Horace Williams into plans for Carolina North, utilizing its capacity to enhance lives for all the Tar Heels it benefits now and thousands of others for decades in the future.
8) The Town Council ought not begin the process for approval of the Innovation Center out of sequence with final decisions about the Master Plan, because that approval will short-circuit the flexibility needed to deal with replacement of the airport. Once you decide to approve the Innovation Center, you have essentially closed the airport. If this airport is closed before regulatory and funding approval is obtained for its replacement, there will be no replacement.
9) Finally, there is the little matter of the toxic waste dump adjacent to the site where the Innovation Center is proposed. The benzene levels in the groundwater there exceed State health standards by more than 30,000 times! How many firms are out there considering moving into this new building beside the remediation dome that is going to have to be built to extract the toxic wastes from our groundwater? In fact, how many firms are interested enough that you can conclude that this building is any more than the earliest effort possible to begin construction of SOMETHING, ANYTHING, in the shortest possible term, at Carolina North?
10) We urge you to protect the assets presently operating at the Horace Williams property, until real necessity is demonstrated for buildings located and designed in accordance with a Master Plan, instead of being driven by the threat that this Equity Partner is not willing to wait until Chapel Hill’s usual development process can be completed.
For more information, contact NCFHWA steering committee member Chris Hudson at (704)338-9161 or email@example.com