Correcting the Record on the RDU Land-Lease Agreement

Myth v. Fact on Activist Claims

Activists continue to circulate inaccurate and misleading information about a land-lease agreement between the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority and a local mining company.

RDU contributed $12.6 billion dollars to the regional economy and supported more than 86,000 regional jobs in 2018. The airport is tracking 11 years ahead of growth projections, preventing the Authority from keeping pace with infrastructure needs. Record-setting passenger traffic is causing congestion along the terminal curbs, long lines at security checkpoints and crowding at terminal gates. RDU’s aging primary runway also needs to be replaced, which will allow the airport to build more gates and accommodate flights to farther destinations.

RDU must identify new revenue streams to pay for terminal and airfield infrastructure and remain a vibrant economic engine for the region. The mineral lease agreement is conservatively projected to generate about $24 million at a time when the airport has approximately $1.8 billion in unfunded infrastructure needs.

Setting the record straight:

Myth: RDU needs federal approval to move forward with the land-lease agreement.

Fact: RDU consulted with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which determined that the land-lease could go forward without federal approval.

Myth: RDU is harming public land for private gain.

Fact: RDU is leasing, not selling, the land for the expansion of an existing quarry. Similar to the state parks system, the Airport Authority has a strict policy of not selling its land for many reasons, including the understanding that RDU property is a critical source of revenue for airport operations. RDU is also required by law to receive fair market value for use of airport property and is prohibited from creating uses incompatible with the airport. A sale that creates or expands a state park would jeopardize federal grant funding and is prohibited by the FAA.

The land-lease agreement requires Wake Stone to contribute $3.6 million for a willing partner to lease 151 acres of airport land next to Umstead State Park for mountain biking. This funding is intended to resolve the problem of bikers trespassing on RDU property because Umstead State Park also does not allow off-road cycling.

Myth: The four bodies that own RDU – the cities of Raleigh and Durham and the counties of Wake and Durham – did not have input on the land-lease.

Fact: The land-lease agreement was part of a public process and was discussed in open meetings over a period of several years. RDU issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to explore new revenue sources for that parcel of land in 2017 and only received one proposal that met the RFP requirements. A conservation group proposed purchasing the property, which was never for sale.

The concept of a quarry on airport land is included in RDU’s Vision 2040 master plan, which was developed over a two-year span and included a public comment period and 10 public meetings.

RDU’s owning bodies are represented by the members they appoint to the Airport Authority’s Board of Directors. Each owning body – Durham County, the City of Durham, the City of Raleigh and Wake County – appoints two members to the Board. The Board voted unanimously in favor of the land-lease agreement with one recusal. RDU also consulted with the FAA, which determined that the land-lease could go forward without federal approval.

In addition, Wake Stone agreed to provide $3.6 million to fund a mountain biking lease and $3 million for site restoration in response to feedback it received from the community, local governments and special interest groups on the lease proposal.

Myth: RDU could have earned more than the land-lease is worth by selling the property to a conservation group.

Fact: The lease earns more revenue to support airport operations than a potential sale of the property. The minimum included in the agreement is a worst-case scenario based on the market for stone decreasing significantly. Conservative projections show the lease will generate about $20.4 million for the airport plus $3.6 million for the mountain biking lease, a total of $24 million for airport use. The Triangle is growing at a rapid pace and that regional growth is expected to increase the demand for stone, as it is used in the construction of roads, bridges and buildings.

Myth: Quarry expansion will harm Umstead State Park and impact recreational access.

Fact: Wake Stone has operated a quarry next to Umstead State Park in compliance with environmental regulations since 1982, and buffers will separate the quarry expansion from state property, similar to the adjacent existing Wake Stone operation. Wake Stone must obtain all required federal, state and environmental permits for the project to proceed and is prohibited from using Reedy Creek Road to haul stone. The land-lease agreement includes $3 million to reclaim the site at the end of the term lease, which will include recreational features and a gravel parking lot for additional access to Umstead State Park.