Committee eyes airport as way to boost growth

HUDSON — The County committee in charge of economic development met last week to discuss what benefits the county might reap from the first round of competitive grants from the state.

The Board of Supervisors Economic Development/Planning/Tourism/Agriculture Committee also heard good news about the growth at the county airport on Route 9H in Ghent and the costs of transporting patients to and from medical treatment in Albany.

Governor Cuomo’s Regional Economic Development Council grant awards are expected to be announced in December. Under the new program, $1 billion in grants will be distributed among the 10 regional EDC groups. Columbia County is part of the Capital Region Economic Development Council along with Albany, Greene, Saratoga, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Warren, and Washington counties.

The governor’s plan is designed to promote job growth by forcing regions to focus on their specific strengths and needs, and have their proposals compete with the plans submitted by the other regions. The Capital Region EDC submitted three proposals that would benefit Columbia County:

*Expansion of broadband Internet service in the county

*Construction of a train-to-truck loading facility near the ADM plant in Greenport

*Development of an adventure park and condos at Catamount, a project that is reportedly shovel ready.

A report on the Columbia County Airport prepared by the state depicts the facility as a gem with a longer runway than Pittsfield’s and a convenient location. County Commissioner of Economic Development Ken Flood described his vision for the airport as a “gateway for business and personal travel, and as a vehicle for economic development.”

The airport used to be subsidized by the county but is now near the break-even point, said Mr. Flood, but “it needs improvement. Richmor Avaition has complained about it.” Richmor is a commercial aviation company based at the airport. It provides jet charter flights around the world. Mr. Flood recommended that the county build more hangars for jets.

“We can get $350 per month for a hangar bay. That’s $40,000 per year,” said Mr. Flood.

Art Bassin (D-Ancram) asked if the county really needs to own an airport and was told that a privatization option was also being researched. When Mr. Bassin asked whether the county had ever audited Richmor’s books to make sure it was getting the agreed upon revenues, he was told no.

“It’s Dave Robinson’s responsibility and he has never done it,” said Mr. Flood, referring to the county commissioner of public works.

The group also discussed the ongoing problem of high costs for taxi transportation to Albany medical facilities for seniors, vets and Medicaid clients. Medical clients spend$695,000 annually on such trips. Each round trip costs about $130 to $160 and the county pays around $250,000 of the total bill, with Medicaid and the state Department of Health picking up the rest of the tab. One daily bus run is already in place, and the group is now seeking to expand that by providing midday service.

“We’ve created a cottage industry of taxi cabs,” said Art Baer (I-Hillsdale).

Mr. Baer a former chairman and county fiscal officer added that “rural counties are disproportionately affected because of the lack of specialized medical services in their districts.”

Tourism has grown by 3.8%, reported county Annie Cooper, administrator of the county Tourism Department. A new tourism development board will be appointed early next year said Mr. Flood.

The Farmland Protection Plan is on schedule and will be presented to the Board of Supervisors and review by the public during the first half of next year. 

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