Conroe, July 12 – The Montgomery County Commissioners Court voted to approve a “master plan” for the Montgomery County Airport which the members of the Commissioners Court never saw. Local activist and sage Bill O’Sullivan described the airport as a “concrete hole into which we’re pouring money,” because the “master plan called for spending $3.9 million of County tax dollars over the next four years, $11 million over the next 20 years, and a total of $83 million total (including federal and state funds) on the Airport by 2036.
County Commissioners James Noack of Precinct 3 and Jim Clark of Precinct 4 objected to consideration of the “master plan” since they claimed they had only received the plan at 8:04 on Monday, July 10, 2017, prior to the Tuesday, July 11, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. In fact, Noack and Clark were mistaken; they had never received the “master plan” prior to County Judge Craig Doyal’s and Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley’s insistence that they vote on it on Tuesday. Strangely, Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Meador, at first, seemed open to the idea of deferring the vote for two weeks to permit the members of the Commissioners Court actually to review the “master plan.”
With the agenda posted on Friday, July 7, the Airport Department merely provided a two-page letter describing their desire for the Commissioners Court to approve the “master plan” with a brief “executive summary” of the plan. On Monday, July 10, however, the Airport Department provided a link to the so-called “master plan” which was actually a six-page summary of the actual “master plan” which is over 200 pages long. The Airport Department never provided a copy of the “master plan” to any member of the Commissioners Court (with the possible exception of Meador).
Therefore, Noack and Clark correctly objected to consideration of the plan and moved to defer the vote until the July 25, 2017, Commissioners Court meeting. The motion to table the vote died on a 2 to 3 vote.
It seems that Doyal, Riley, and Meador are rushing to lock Montgomery County into many tens of millions of dollars of capital spending projects before the March, 2018, Republican Primary Election when they likely fear that Doyal and Riley may suffer a defeat at the hands of the unhappy electorate who’ve had enough of the wasteful tax dollar spending, conflicts of interest, nepotism, secrecy, the failure to address necessary road projects, and other sharp practices detrimental to the interests of the taxpayers.
Soon after the first vote, Meador moved to approve the “master plan,” which an Kansas consulting firm had developed with some input from the Airport Advisory Board. The ultimate vote on the unseen “master plan” was three votes in favor (Doyal, Riley, Meador), one vote against (Clark), and one abstention.
O’Sullivan had managed the second largest air facility in the world at one point during his career. He noted in a citizen comment during the meeting that the proposed “master plan” and none of the Commissioners Court discussions about the airports ever discussed the air traffic count. In particular, O’Sullivan criticized the Commissioners Court for failing to examine what the effect of large capital expenditures at the Airport has been on air traffic counts.
The big question: is the Airport worth the money?
Whenever discussions of the Airport come before the Commissioners Court, a small number of pilots and the Airport Advisory Board members come before the Court to speak in favor of spending more morning.
The real question that the Commissioners Court has abjectly failed to examine is whether the dollars spent on development of the Airport are worth the money garnered to the local economy in economic development. The Commissioners Court has operated this money-losing Airport for over 40 years. Air traffic counts have failed to achieve the projections of the 2003 “master plan” which the Commissioners Court approved 14 years ago.
While many people in this community and others have long tried to argue that airports lead to economic development, the causal relationship is questionable. In fact, many real estate economists have suggested that the causal link is the opposite: that economic development grows airports, not the other way around.
A study by real estate researchers Shugie Yao and Xiujan Yang in 2008 at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom found that airport development did not have any causative effect on economic growth in urban or rural areas of China. Richard Green, writing for the scholarly journal, Real Estate Economics, reported in 2007 that airports in the United States and United Kingdom spurred little economic growth in areas surrounding them, unless the airports offered passenger flights that made air travel easier to access. An April, 2014, study by Duke University’s Urban Economics research program made similar findings that there simply is no impact on economic development from a community’s construction or expansion of airports, unless there are regular commercial passenger flights.
At present, while three of the five members of the Commissioners Court (Doyal, Riley, and Meador) want to spend a lot of tax dollars on the Montgomery County Airport, there is no evidence whatsoever that taxpayers, other citizens, or anyone (other than a small group of pilots who enjoy flying their planes and County employees who receive salaries from the Airport) are actually getting any return from the Airport.