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UNC grounds plans for new airport in Orange County

Posted January 9, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

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— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has stopped plans to create an airport authority in southwestern Orange County as the first step to building a replacement for Horace Williams Airport.

"There's unfortunately been a significant lack of trust among a lot of the neighbors," UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp said, while announcing the change Friday morning.

"There is a great deal of distrust, not necessarily of the authority, but of the process by which it came to be," he continued.

UNC’s airport plans won’t fly UNC’s airport plans won’t fly

Property owners surrounding the proposed site for the new airport had said they expected their land to be seized via eminent domain and that the new airport would be larger than the older one. Farmers said they would lose family lands and their livelihood.

"Some of these people have been out there all their life and their families before them," said Marc Marcopolos, a member of an action group against the airport.

The decision mainly affects UNC's medical staff, many of whom will switch to using Raleigh-Durham International Airport when Horace Williams is closed. The Area Health Education Centers and MedAir programs use the old airport.

"Some of them are disappointed as you might expect," Thorp said, adding that the decision was hard "because I made a pledge to our AHEC doctors."

Although a timetable is not in place, Horace Williams will eventually be forced out for the university's law school as construction of Carolina North, a 250-acre expansion for research and other efforts, gets underway.

Dr. Alan Stiles, with UNC Pediatrics, described the airport controversy as "two good things clashing against each other."

Stiles said that although the decision is inconvenient, staff can adjust to using RDU.

Thorp said he consulted with Rep. Joe Hackney, UNC System President Erskine Bowles, county commissioners, Chapel Hill mayor and UNC trustees before changing plans.

Preserve Rural Orange organized an art exhibit for farmers who would have been affected by airport construction to dramatize their losses. Instead of a protest, however, it will be a celebration at the Jessie Kalisher Gallery in Carrboro Friday evening, organizers said.

"We thought this was going to drag on for a long time," Marcopolos said. "There are a lot of powerful special interests behind this."

Instead, he said, Friday's announcement made "a sunny day in southwest Orange County."

When asked, Thorp would not rule out the possibility of building another airport in Orange County in the future.

"Whether Orange County wants and needs an airport should be widely and openly discussed," Throp said. "And the decision sould be made by the county and its citizens."

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  • davincileo Jan 9, 2009

    The airport plans have most likely been grounded not due to the so-called "trust" with neighbors, but because the big donors i.e. hedge funds, developers, bankers, etc. have lost so much money personally, that the private jet they coveted may not be coming any time soon.

  • Joe Schmoe Jan 9, 2009

    foetine wrote:

    "Can't these farmers understand that Roy Williams and Butch Davis need an exclusive runway for their private jets."

    Last time saw Roy Williams, he was sitting in the waiting area of a gate in terminal A at RDU, about to get on the same commercial flight I was taking. Very nice guy. Said he didn't particularly enjoy traveling.

  • happymom Jan 9, 2009

    I don't have a problem with people being wealthy. What I have a problem with is FAMILY LAND being taken away for no real civic purpose. Forcing a farming family to give up their land just because someone wants a more convenient airstrip (something that does not benefit the public good) is no reason to use eminent domain. THAT is the real issue here.

  • ncmickey Jan 9, 2009

    "FYI. The small grass airstrip near I85 is NO substitute for Horace Williams airport"

    I am sure UNC could make a deal with the owners to expand it some....at a far smaller cost than buying land in Carrboro and building from scratch.

    The "small grass strip" is only 800 feet shorter,(3200 and 4000), with room to expand...and Horris Williams only averages 2 more flights a day.

    The planes that needed more runway can use RDU.

  • irishale Jan 9, 2009

    "It's a blessing a plane hasn't gone down on top of one of those neighborhoods yet"

    I know. It's like running with scissors, building, then BUYING a house in the flight path of a known airport.

    Has anyone identified the common sense gene yet? Anybody care to guess where there's NOT a large sampling of it?

  • openings Jan 9, 2009

    FYI. The small grass airstrip near I85 is NO substitute for Horace Williams airport.

  • ncmickey Jan 9, 2009

    There is a small airport in Northeast Durham right off 85. It is within 40 minutes of Chapel Hill. Good place for small planes. RDU is only 40 minutes on a BAD day from UNC. I dont see the big issue here. It would be cheaper for UNC to run a bus shuttle or limo to make it easier for those "fat cats" UNC DOES have a helipad. so any real emergencies are all ready handled that way.

  • skinnyCat Jan 9, 2009

    I kind of resent being called a fat cat. I drive from Raleigh to Danville, VA in my Honda Accord because that the costs up there are 1/3 the cost of anything around here. And I drive from one end of Orange county to the other end to do it.

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jan 9, 2009

    Here's a good overview of General Aviation and Economy: http://www.gaservingamerica.org/our_economy/economy.htm

    General Aviation accounts for $150 billion and 1 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

  • jse830fcnawa030klgmvnnaw+ Jan 9, 2009

    foetine, general aviation is not necessarily run by rich people. That is a small percentage compared to the aviation training, private pilots, aircraft rentals, cargo/freight, utility, and medical fields using general aviation airports. Here's a more detailed explanation of general aviation: http://www.aopa.org/info/what_ga.pdf

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