PARKERSBURG - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was in Parkersburg Wednesday talking about issues affecting the local airport, the banking community and residents in general.
Manchin was at West Virginia University at Parkersburg meeting with residents, banking representatives and officials with the Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport as part of his "Commonsense Solutions" tour across the state. The senator said solutions are needed to achieve a stronger West Virginia economy and he wanted to listen to issues of concern in communities.
Airport officials and Wood County commissioners met with Manchin first to discuss the closure of the air traffic control tower. In March, the Federal Aviation Administration announced it would close 149 towers across the country at smaller airports, including the local one, because of automatic sequestration cuts.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., left, and Mid-Ohio Valley Regional Airport Manager Terry Moore listen to a speaker Wednesday at West Virginia University at Parkersburg. Airport officials talked with the senator about the announced closing of the air traffic control tower. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)
Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp, left, and Williamstown Mayor Jean Ford listen to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin speak Wednesday at the Caperton Center on the campus of West Virginia University at Parkersburg. (Photo by Jeff Baughan)
''It was pure politics,'' Manchin told the airport officials. ''What has been going on is just uncalled for. If we can just come together as Americans, we can fix this and have a budget that makes sense.''
Airport officials discussed options to keep the tower open long enough for Congress to work out a budget agreement and reinstate operations at the tower.
Airport manager Terry Moore said the concern is once operations are shut down and equipment removed from the tower, it would be almost impossible to get operations restarted at the facility later on.
''Once closed down, it will never open again,'' he said.
An option discussed was having local funding maintain a minimum of operations for the remainder of the fiscal year in hopes a budget deal would be worked out at the federal level. Hours would be cut back for workers in the tower and other cost-cutting measures would be implemented to keep operations going for about six months.
Officials wanted to know from Manchin if they did that, would the local tower be given a priority status at a time full operations could resume. The senator had his representatives make calls and said someone would get back with local officials today.
''If we have airports in West Virginia that are willing to step up to the plate and make the sacrifice and find the hard-to-find resources to keep this open for the safety of the traveling public for six months, will they have a priority or will they be penalized?'' the senator asked one of his staff in trying to get an official from the FAA to talk to him about the local airport's concerns.
If a complete shutdown cannot be avoided, Moore said he wants some means to pay for having to move out equipment and other functions that have fallen upon local airports in closing the towers. Certain functions at the airport are controlled from the tower and a way needs to be devised to switch those functions to another place, he said.
''The airports are going to have to pick up all of the baggage, assuming the towers close, of moving equipment and adapting to the new environment,'' Moore said. ''We can't do that.
''We need some help. We need to be able to function. We can't do all of the electronic work that needs to be done. It will take time to do that.''
Officials said they will not be able to maintain commercial air service on a field without the air control at the tower.
Manchin talked about veterans' needs in medical services to help with post-traumatic stress disorder.
In talking with local banking officials, the senator discussed being named to the Senate's Banking Committee.
Local banking officials discussed how they feel they are overburdened by regulations with an unreasonable amount of redundancies built into them. Many banks feel like they are penalizing long-time responsible customers by regulations they have to meet and be able to serve their customers, officials said.
''I am concerned about getting capital back on the street and put the money back out where it needs to be so it can work for all of us,'' Manchin said.