UNC backing off airport plans?

As reported in the N & O one hour ago:

The university may halt its plans to build an airport in Orange County.

Chancellor Holden Thorp plans a press conference at 11 a.m. this morning to announce a "change" in the plans for an airport authority in Orange County. Thorp had announced in September that UNC would convene the authority early this year.

Orange County Commissioner Mike Nelson said the university would not be pursuing an airport in the county.

"They are not going to establish an airport authority at this time," Nelson said. "They're going to back off and focus on other priorities."

- N&O: UNC airport may not get off the ground, 1/9/09

If this is true, I will be very pleased and will also be very very impressed with Chancellor Thorp. It's easy to SAY the things we like to hear, but harder to really do the right thing, especially with the UNC/BOT/legislative/AOPA machine pushing against you.

We'll know more soon...



According to WCHL, Thorp singled out orangepolitics.org as a major source of information and understanding of the issue.  Kudos to you, Ruby, for keeping it going, not to mention putting up with all of us!  (You'd think that would eliminate the need for further discussion, but remember that the RDU facility has still been suspended.)

I have to say, the community here has been ROCKING OUT with posting many diverse and well-thought-out views on the airport. I'm glad to be able to help facilitate the discussion.Here's the WCHL story summary: http://www.wchl1360.com/details.html?id=9070

UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp announced this morning that he will ask the Board of Governors to cancel the creation of an Airport Authority to end the controversy in rural Orange County, Thorp said at a press conference.

The Airport Authority was originially designed to identify a replacement site for the Chapel Hill-based Horace Williams Airport.

Thorp said he spoke with the doctors from AHEC who agreed that Raleigh-Durham International Airport would be a suitable location.

From the audio file of Thorp's speech.

"I'm a avid reader of Orange Politics. But I didn't take all of that at face value. I went to our attorney's and faculty and tried to understand this whole thing... the laws and regulations of building airports."

We should fact check everything we read. Of course Orange Politics is no exception. I'm glad that Chancellor Thorpe said he does this. Critical thinking is a valuable skill to teach by example.

Straight from the horse's mouth. (Aren't you glad the Chancellor has a blog?)


Today’s announcement about the airport authority

This morning, I announced that we would not ask the Board of Governors to create an airport authority. I’m posting my prepared remarks below. I was pleased that Orange County Commissioners Chair Valerie Foushee was there to support our decision. And it was also great to have Laura Streitfeld, Cliff Leath, Tom Schopler and Marilee McTigue there. They all made supportive comments and even clapped when I made the announcement.

Holden Thorp Remarks re: Airport Authority
January 9, 2009

I have decided to ask the UNC Board of Governors not to create an airport authority to identify a replacement site for Horace Williams Airport. 

This has not been an easy decision … most of all because I made a pledge to our AHEC doctors. I had said that, short term, I was convinced that a MedAir move to RDU would be workable. But I also said that for the long-term, we owed it to our doctors to explore another alternative. At the time, I thought that an airport authority was the best approach. The county would have the zoning authority, and the siting and development of the airport would be in the hands of a public body that would operate transparently.

But increasingly, I have felt that the authority would be unable to accomplish what we had hoped. There is a great deal of distrust, not necessarily of the authority, but of the process by which it came to be. That distrust would likely extend to the authority when its members were appointed. 

So, with all that in mind, I started calling some of the AHEC doctors. Those I spoke with told me they understood our eventual need to move airport operations to RDU and that it’s in the best interest of the University and our community not to form the authority. 

I consulted with Speaker of the House Joe Hackney, and he agreed that this is the right approach. And I talked with the chair of the county commissioners, the mayor, President Bowles and our trustees, and they all concur. 

We will continue to move forward on Carolina North. It is critical to the future of the University and the state of North Carolina. While we will keep Horace Williams Airport open as long as we can, to realize the full potential of Carolina North, we must close the airport. 

When that happens, we will still need an airport. It’s essential for our AHEC program. But we have an acceptable option – RDU. 

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

I have to say I'm feeeling really impressed with Chancellor Thorp right now. He's exactly right that it was the imperious process that was the problem in the first place, and that there is an acceptable alternative at RDU.

I wonder what or who were the other forces at play in this decision?

This indicates to me that Carolina North planning may have been halted indefinitely.  HWA and CN issues have been linked from the start. The "other priorities" to which Commissioner Nelson refers are other UNC priorities.  Everything was happening too fast.  The Trustees have already sent the Innovation Center design back to the drawing board (we can only imagine the cost of that one delay), and the university seems not have a handle on CN's grand objective.  I truly feel sorry for President Bowles and Chancellor Thorpe right now.  They haven't screwed up, they haven't been dishonest; they see finally that it's time to take a step back and emerge with a clear-eyed vision. 

I am truly impressed with Thorp. He took the time to understand the issue and came to the right conclusion. In doing so, he repudiated the Aircraft Owners & Pilot's Association that were exploiting a minority of AHEC doctors to get what they wanted.And I am truly impressed by my fellow community members who did such a great job gathering information and communicating it to the right people. We made it clear that we would not stand for the inconsistencies and back-room special interest deals that were the hallmark of this twisted process.  

Priscilla provided great info on AHEC and the pilot's association. Tony Blake shared a wealth of information. So many others - thanks from a relieved country boy.

Mark, keep in mind that certain doors have been left open.  I don't think they're perma-closed yet.  But this is a great reprieve and we should all take advantage of the probably long hiaitus after such an angst-filled season.  Happy New Year!  Take a look and keep and eye out for Inauguration celebrations on the 18th and the 20th.    

Here is a link to the MP3 file of Thorp's comments. thorpairportfull.mp3 Thanks for putting all this raw audio online WCHL!

Yes, kudos to the Chancellor for putting an end to the notion of building a new airport in Orange County. I am still not convinced that, as the Chancellor put it, " ... to realize the full potential of Carolina North, we must close the [Horace Williams] airport." Arguments here on OP and elsewhere are inconclusive and often rest on unverified assumptions or relatively minor details.I am also not convinced that RDU is an acceptable alternative, since there is still the risk of doctors caught in automobile traffic jams between there and the hospital when time is of the essence in someone's medical condition.May I still suggest that there is an alternative that has not been sufficiently explored? That alternative is to keep Horace Williams open and to build most of Carolina North to the northwest of the airport grounds, oriented to the rail corridor instead of roads. This would be the hallmark of genuine transit-oriented development. A secondary connection for motor vehicles could still be made along the existing roadbed to Martin Luther King.Here again is a link to a map, provided in 2004 by the UNC administration, showing where Carolina North could be built, even if the airport is not closed, consistent with F.A.A. regulations. http://research.unc.edu/cn/ASG2004.ppt#1551,31,Slide 31James Coley

"Arguments here on OP and elsewhere are inconclusive and often rest on unverified assumptions or relatively minor details."  Just because you and/or the pilots' lobby reject them doesn't mean they're inconclusive, unverified, or minor.  We've been around this issue before on other threads in this blog, and you seem to have dismissed fairly specific and quantified constraints on building around the airport - including safety, liability, economics, and ecology.  FAA guidelines ONLY refer to clearance for take off and noise - there are many many other considerations. I refer you and others to the other threads.http://www.orangepolitics.org/eta-on-the-innovation-center and then  http://www.orangepolitics.org/does-orange-county-need-our-own-airport 

Priscilla:While researching documents about Airports in general, I came across this one. I put a link on my blog, but thought it might be something of interest here.Airport noise and residential housing valuation in southern California: A hedonic pricing approachThe authors are listed as: *M. Rahmatian and L. Cockerill  It is a very scholarly approach to some of the other issues surrounding airports related to flight path, perception and the influence of property values.I have included the abstract below. AbstractA large and detailed data set is used to examine the influence of airports and airport light paths on housing prices. The results indicate that individuals consider airport proximity and airport flight patterns in their housing purchases. This shows that there exist two distinct measurable price gradients that distinguish large airports from small airports. In addition, homes located under the flight path of a large airport have a price gradient that is significantly larger than homes located under the flight path of a small airport.Key words: Hedonic property value, housing price evaluation, noise pollutionIt is a little heavy and loaded with data and statistics (as one would expect), but I found it interesting reading in the context of this discussion.Again, a lot of this is from California, but they tend to be the bellweather for land use issues.

Not sure the fat lady (naming no names...) has sung the final aria, though it may seem so for a rural OC airport, at least for now.  On that score, it is indeed a relief if we're no longer teetering on the edge of a neighborhood-vs-neighborhood or town-vs-county conflict.  In fact, probably the greatest benefit of the debate has been that the University is now forced to face the basic question: why an airport in the first place? All of the OC groups and the various people who have worked so hard to make that happen are to be praised. Chancellor Thorp deserves admiration, too,  for having researched and pondered the whole issue and considered many angles - and then made his revised thinking public.  It was one of the most gracious addresses I think I've ever heard from an administrator on the occasion of a reversal of position.It's indicative of something that he made the announcement in such a high-profile way, but there are still the two Boards, although I can't imagine they didn't know what Thorp intended to do.  For him and for them, I suspect that the economic realities are at least as compelling as the political realities.  However,  it's still great to have the political issues surrounding the Airport Authority acknowledged and all-but-apologized for. That's huge.However, for now, folks, it looks like the operative phrase is "keep Horace Williams Airport open as long as we can."  That's the holding action, and AOPA has never been known to give up until a runway is actually turned over with an earthmover (as happened in Chicago) - and maybe not even then.  No one, Thorp included, is saying "never."  AOPA still has any number of doors to knock on and options to promote, even if a shiny new OC jetport is off the table for now.   RDU is still the optimal solution -- the cheapest in the long run for the University -- and It would be shortsighted to lose sight of that just because OC is no longer threatened. ~~~~~~~~~PS: added because I was working on this while others posted - and the arguments against RDU are quod erat demonstrandum - as I predicted.  Has anyone seen that fat lady singer?

I just sent this email.  Let's see what response I get?“No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the legislature is in session." 1 Tucker 248, N.Y. Surr.18_________________________Speaker Hackney, Representative Faison, Senator Stevens,Now that the University has terminated its efforts to establish and airport in Orange County, you have the ability to restore your reputation with your constituents. I think the majority of your constituents would like to see you repeal the Airport Authority legislation during the next legislative session. Would you be opposed to that in any way?Thanks,Glenn Wallace

congratulations to all you influential folks. here's what HT has to say about you.

A quick post and some shakey video I shot at the press conference.More (plenty more) to come.http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2009/01/09/unc-to-not-pursue-airport-authority/ kmr  

do ya think that maybe the current financial situation has something to do with this decision? and that when the money is flowing again, this thing might get built then? that maybe this is not a response to community activism but to budget cuts? just maybe?

Chapel Hill, since its founding, has always been both a state-wide resource and a self-contained community.  Many land-use decisions can and do bring these two characteristics into conflict.  It is wonderful that we again have a chancellor with a long-term UNC and Chapel Hill history who appreciates the balance.  Thank you Holden Thorp.

Thanks and kudos to Chancellor Thorp for this thoughtful change of pace: slow down, get it right, consider the impact of decisions on the community and the county-at-large.  Thanks and kudos to our County Commissioners for nudging Chancellor Thorp in the right direction.  It's a great day for Orange County!  Kirk, you have a bright future as a documentary film-maker. This is the sort of announcement we say, "What?? Really??" and here's the proof. The applause came right on cue. 

Though some counseled, even mocked, that UNC had stated that there were no airport sites chosen and that people were naive to even question the process at this point, Orange County citizens researched the issue and put together a closing argument that trumped any single perspective that Thorp had heard. Without the grasssroots efforts of the citizens, this outcome would not have happened. Yes, kudos to Thorp (he exceeded all expectations for leadership, intellectual honesty, and political acumen) and & the Commissioners, but let's not forget that this was the result of countless contributions by your Orange County neighbors - from chipping in a few bucks & posting signs to writing letters to papers & reps to gathering petition signatures to calling our commisioners to meeting with political leaders to researching the information that no-one gave to us. In the end, it was all these efforts and our commitment that made this happen. I have never been prouder or more aware of the strength and power of our community, from the old-timers that have been here for generations to the transplants that have their own appreciation and loyalty to this community and its natural beauty.  

I think from what Chancellor Thorp has said, it was clear that his thinking on this was shaped by what he heard and read, especially from local government officials, blogs, individual discussions, grass root groups, our local media, and other sources. His questions to his staff must have generated a lot of info that caused him pause, and in that sense, the system worked.  It is just as clear that what played no role in his reversal request to the BOG was name calling, personal attacks, and various characterizations of the situation that put erroneous and inaccurate information out there, for whatever reasons. As a scientist, he seems to respond to facts.We must also remember that other key players, actors and stakeholders will continue to press this issue.  The fact that the Chancellor recognized that a flawed process would probably produce a flawed outcome, the next iteration should be better thought through, more inclusive and very transparent.  Lets hope that a fundamental underpining will be that whatever our differences, that which unites us as a community of multiple and diverse interest can help us make decisions that will make us an even better community.

Fred - what exactly were the erroneous  characterizations & the personal attacks? I was involved in this issue up-close and every day and I don't know what you are talking about. 


Got what they wanted.  Of course.


His statement re this blogsite was qualified with the mention of fact checking.  What does that say about him and this site?

Are you assuming that what's posted here is automatically wrong on the facts? Or simply calling attention to the presence of a lot of information here and the laudable trait - required by his position - of taking nothing at face value without verification?

 Thanks to Ruby for creating an outlet were the people and politicians do meet! “Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other's welfare, social justice can never be attained.” Helen Keller

Was there a budget already in place to build the airport? Could it be UNC is happy to cancel/postpone this project until the economy picks up again? Caronlina North appears to be on hold because a lack of funding.

So many factors involved. Creating a trusting rapport with the communities that surround UNC is one.

Their objective was to use primarily federal funds which are avaiable in the form of block grants to North Carolina for aviation purposes. The grants range from something like $8 million to $20 million a year and they don't need to be spent each year. So it's conceivable that the powers-that-be could prevail upon the grant disbursers to allow a few years worth of funds to accumulate.In light of the general economic sitiuation, I think that Thorp realized that the construction of Carolina North could drag on way longer than was anticipated. If an Airport Authority was created now, that would ensure a protracted battle between UNC and the community that would result in UNC's image being tarnished at every turn. Thorp correctly concluded that the whole process had its origins in back-room deals and sleazy alliances. He also recognized that a very few AHEC doctors were - knowingingly or in actual collusion - the only folks rasing any substantive objections to moving AHEC operations to RDU. It was a wise decision on many levels, not least of which are the political and strategic considerations for the reputation of UNC.Let's hope that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, who are not used to being rebuffed, will be outed when they make their next push for an airport. It could come in the next year or two, At least they will be laying the groundwork in preparation for progress on Carolina North. We will need to be vigilant and smoke them out when they come crawling around again.

Those who have been following this issue for the past fifteen years know that AOPA's "next push" for an airport will almost certainly be HWA -- to keep it right where it is and build Carolina North around it. To think that UNC has taken this off the drawing board is naive at best.

Maybe Thorp wouldn't be for it, but there are more powerful people than him behind the notion of a local general aviation airport.

The decision to halt the process is all well and good, and seems to have been reached for good, albeit pragmatic, reasons.  Clearly, they would have had their hands full had they continued.  However, actions speak louder than words, and if the university administration really means it, they will act to ensure that the enabling legislation is rescinded.  Without that action, the door is obviously open for various forces to continue operating at cross purposes with true stakeholder involvement.  For example, the university or its proxies may seek to purchase land for an airport, waiting for a day when certain winds (no pun intended) may change, such as new people coming into control.  So, if UNC really wants to cement the good will they have garnered so far, they should clean up the mess that remains and truly get back to square one, where things need to be.

WeaverGuy says

However, actions speak louder than words, and if the university administration really means it, they will act to ensure that the enabling legislation is rescinded.  Without that action, the door is obviously open for various forces to continue operating at cross purposes with true stakeholder involvement.  For example, the university or its proxies may seek to purchase land for an airport, waiting for a day when certain winds (no pun intended) may change, such as new people coming into control. 

Repeal of the legislation will neither prevent the University from buying land for an airport nor prevent them from constructing an airport.

Obviously, there is nothing to stop it except public opinion.  But rescinding the legislation adds a kind of finality to the present effort, and sending the whole thing back to square one, again, cements the good will that they have begun to develop.  Leaving the legislation in place does make the job of moving again far easier than if it were rescinded, to be brought back at another time, if at all, with full stakeholder involvement.  Futher, it would seem that there need not be state legislation to develop an airport, but in its absense, other steps would have to be taken (including forming an authority, etc.), next time, if at all, ostensibly with stakeholder involvement.

I doubt that UNC will request that the legislation authorizing it to form the Airport Authority be rescinded.  Chancellor Thorp probably used a few of his chips in getting the trustees (and University benefactors) to go along with his decision to not pursue an airport at this time.  Even though he could force the issue and ask that the legislation be rescinded there is no guarantee that the State Legislature would grant the request.  And using too many of his chips this early in his tenure wouldn't make sense.  You never know what cards you're going to be dealt on the next hand and what it's going to take to stay in the game.

On the one hand, it does seems likely that the chancellor may have expended some political capital, or chips, in taking this decision (to the extent that he has the authority to really do that....does he?....or was this a decision that the trustees made with  his recommendation?  The exact phrasing may be important here.)  And perhaps leaving the legislation in place is no big deal.In all events, the powers that be have chosen a chancellor who they must go along with, for a number of reasons. These reasons include the fact that he appears to have the ability to take UNC further than a lot people might imagine, and that is a good thing and they must know that.  There are a lot of more important fish to fry to improve UNC (to make it a "great" university, as Moeser put it) than putting an airport out in the country when there are other, viable options.

As he stated, if he doesn't submit nominations for an Airport Authority, the BOT can't go forward on it.

Here is today's story from us, with reaction from Jim Heavner and others:http://www.dailytarheel.com/news/city/unc_halts_airport_searchMax 

I applaud the DTH for getting a number of pro-general-aviation voices on your record -- a reality check for those who might have imagined the anti-airport battle is over.

George is right: it's quite unlikely that Chancellor Thorp will ask the legislature to rescind the Airport Authority legislation -- too many chips to hold in reserve.  Also keep in mind that he consulted Joe Hackney in the course of re-examining the university's position.  Hackney may have advised Thorp not to go there in so many words.  From here it looks like an unnecessary extra step, at least for now. 

The question is, who is Joe Hackney supposed to represent in the state legislature, UNC or southwest Orange County?  Last time I looked, Joe had District 54 and UNC-CH is in District 56....


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.