Schuylkill County Airport thinks big
MOUNT PLEASANT - It might be a long shot, but local authorities believe Schuylkill County/Joe Zerbey Airport has a lot to offer as the Federal Aviation Administration looks to build a new major air traffic control center.
"It's better to throw your hat in the ring than not at all," Bill Willard, airport manager, said Tuesday.
Over the next 10 years, the FAA plans to consoli-
date dozens of control operations in the Northeast into four major centers. Instead of updating the radar-based equipment - some more than 35 years old - the FAA wants to build a new center using satellites within 150 miles of New York to be used for the New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey region. It will replace two outdated systems on Long Island.
Known as the Liberty Integrated Control Facility, the 250,000-square-foot installation will at first create 850 jobs and could eventually have up to 1,200 workers.
More than 40 sites have been proposed for the control center and only a few have been visited by FAA officials.
In July, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said the center will be located in New York with Long Island being the preferred location.
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has continued to request that the FAA reconsider the Tobyhanna Army Depot for the $200 million project. Less than 100 miles from New York, the Tobyhanna location has the land, infrastructure, security, electronics and radar capabilities for the facility, Toomey said.
The FAA plans to start building the tower in 2016 and have it fully operationally by 2020.
However, the airport in Schuylkill County also meets qualifications for the project.
"I think we have a lot to offer," Willard said.
Willard, along with Frank Zukas, president of the Schuylkill Economic Development Corporation, and members of the county conservation district, wrote letters to the FAA explaining all the assets the county airport brings for such a project.
In addition to being just under 150 miles from New York, Willard said the Joe Zerbey Airport has great radio reception, interstate access and a lot of available land. Willard also said the area has a much lower cost of living than New York.
Willard said he has not yet heard back from the FAA about a site visit.
"It's worth a shot," Willard said. "If you don't take the shot, you won't know."