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IDA KEEPING ITS OWN COUNSEL ON AIRPORT PLANS

After a closed-door session of two hours and 15 minutes Wednesday, the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board took no action on whether the agency should apply to take over Niagara Falls International Airport.

However, it seemed apparent that the IDA will do so before the Sept. 30 deadline to put in a bid in the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's privatization process for the airport. The NFTA now owns the airport.

IDA Chairman William G. Mayne Jr. said, "We're proceeding under the assumption we will respond." He said no one in Wednesday's meeting voiced any objection to doing so.

"It was sort of obvious the path we should follow," Mayne said. However, he added, "We're not committed to responding."

County Legislature Vice Chairman Clyde L. Burmaster, R-Ransomville, sat in on Wednesday's meeting and said afterwards, "I think the IDA needs to follow the path they chose. I think they would lose face if they didn't."

The IDA will need money to do so. Mayne estimated it will cost $100,000 to respond to the NFTA's request for proposals, with only the initial $10,000 "entry fee" refundable.

IDA Executive Director John R. Simon said, "You want a professional presentation." But he added, "I'm not going to the county for money at this point." Burmaster said, "I know of no role for the county."

Mayne hinted that the management companies themselves might be asked to kick in the money.

Simon said he did not ask the board to vote, nor did he make a recommendation as to which airport management firm the IDA should choose as a partner. The IDA, because it is not an airport management company itself, would have to hook up with such a firm in order to make a bid.

Simon said he has interviewed about 12 such companies, none of them local, with "several" more to come. Some of the companies were from overseas. Their interest was solicited by contacting the companies on the NFTA's mailing list for the request for proposals, which went out July 1.

Mayne and Simon said the agency has received letters and electronic mail from companies withdrawing from contention for various reasons.

In the brief open session of Wednesday's meeting, Simon emphasized the need for "the highest level of confidentiality I can request of any people." Copies of a proposed contract with a management firm were distributed to board members and collected from them again at the end of the meeting.

Ralph A. Boniello III, an IDA lawyer, said the agency believes that if the Niagara Falls airport is transferred from the NFTA to the IDA, from one public benefit corporation to another, the environmental impact red tape would be substantially reduced.

Simon said that is a strong point in favor of an IDA bid. He said a private takeover company would face the full mound of environmental impact red tape.

Burmaster said the Federal Aviation Administration, which must approve any change in ownership, might favor a quasi-governmental owner rather than a private one. "I don't think the FAA is fond of a really private airport," he said.

Mayne said George W. Cregg, another IDA lawyer, spent much time in the closed session predicting FAA responses to various moves that might be made in the airport case.

Burmaster noted that if the NFTA receives and eventually rejects an IDA takeover bid, the county still has the option of political action. He said the county could fall back on efforts to lobby Gov. Pataki, who appoints the NFTA board, to exert his influence on behalf of allowing Niagara County to take the facility over.

Simon said the fact that the IDA had cooked up a proposal earlier this year to persuade the NFTA to lease the airport to the IDA has saved a lot of time on preparing a bid, even though the NFTA refused the earlier offer to make a deal. "We literally for nine months have been putting together relevant information," he said.

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