Opponents of RDU’s land-lease agreement with Wake Stone have turned their attention to Durham’s elected officials, communicating misrepresentations about the value of the lease to the airport, local residents and the Research Triangle region. As a Durham County appointee to the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority’s Board of Directors, I would like to clear up some widely-circulated misinformation.
The public bodies that own RDU – the counties of Durham and Wake and the cities of Durham and Raleigh – are confronted with many issues related to rapid growth, including funding for transportation. With 12.8 million passengers traveling through RDU in 2018 and a 10 percent increase projected for 2019, the airport is experiencing the same growing pains and funding challenges faced by local governments.
Because RDU is required to be self-supporting, it must leverage its land assets to pay for critical improvements to its infrastructure. The Wake Stone lease is expected to generate at least $24 million in revenue for RDU at a time when the airport has nearly $3.7 billion in infrastructure needs, including replacing its aging main runway and adding gates to accommodate more and farther flights. Every dollar earned helps defray the need for public funding.
Each of the owning bodies, through enabling legislation, has entrusted the Board of Directors to make decisions that support RDU’s continued operations and sustainability. Board members regularly inform and advise the owners who appointed us and respond thoughtfully to questions, balancing the concerns of our community with the importance of having a vibrant transportation hub.
The Airport Authority began exploring opportunities to generate revenue from airport property when it solicited public proposals to lease its land about two years ago. Wake Stone Corporation submitted the only proposal that met the solicitation requirements. After evaluating Wake Stone’s initial proposal to lease a parcel of airport land for a quarry, the Airport Authority chose to pause and carefully consider revenue options and the community’s needs.
At that time, the Airport Authority encouraged Wake Stone to seek additional input from local governments, the broader community and groups with concerns about how airport land should be used. The land-lease agreement is the result of that good work—ultimately offering more than initially offered.
Under the agreement executed in March, Wake Stone will provide $3.6 million for a third party to lease 151 acres of airport land for potential mountain biking use. The company will also contribute $3 million at the end of the agreement to reclaim the site with recreational features. Both the airport’s funding needs and the community’s desire to access airport land for recreational opportunities were critical in the board’s decision to vote in favor of the agreement.
I joined the unanimous vote in favor of the land-lease agreement because I believe it is the best option available to provide funding towards RDU’s infrastructure needs. As a board member, I’m pleased the years-long process produced the best result possible for the airport and community, and has the added benefit of addressing the risk of trespassers on airport land. As a Durham County resident, I believe the land-lease agreement is an essential step toward addressing the needs of an airport that supports 5,000 local jobs and connects our community to the world.
I have a record of environmental stewardship, having served on Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation and chaired conservation and watershed subcommittees. I value green space and recreation and see this land-lease agreement providing a balance of value to our community’s vibrant transportation hub and a down payment for recreational access to a parcel of airport land.