It’s not often that a government agency is singled out for termination because it failed to live up to its intent, but that has happened to the West Virginia Public Port Authority.
Last month the West Virginia Legislative Auditor Performance Evaluation and Research Division issued a report detailing the Port Authority’s activities since 2005.
“The Port Authority is currently dormant and lacking the capabilities to continue regular business. The agency has incurred significant expenditures, generated minimal revenue, and dwindled to no employees while becoming increasingly inactive over the last five years. The Port Authority has also fallen short of honoring statutory responsibilities, achieving target goals, and producing successful projects in recent years. The agency has been defunded and not received a federal grant since (fiscal year) 2015,” the report said.
The report devoted about eight of its 22 pages to the failure of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway at Prichard in Wayne County. That facility hasn’t brought in nearly enough revenue to cover its operating costs, and the Public Port Authority is trying to sell it.
The criticisms of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway and the never-built Eastern Panhandle Inland Port are justified, but the Public Port Authority’s biggest problem had nothing to do with either of these. Instead, it was the port authority’s inability to build the regional airport.
For those who weren’t around, there was an effort in the early 2000s to build a new airport to replace Huntington Tri-State Airport and Charleston’s Yeager Airport. To make an epic saga short, several sites were considered, with one in Lincoln County not far from Interstate 64 being selected as the preferred site.
The new airport would have two runways, each being 10,000 feet long. It would have cargo-handling capacity. It could offer service that neither smaller airport could. What could go wrong?
The Huntington community generally supported the Lincoln County site, but people in Kanawha County didn’t want to give up Yeager Airport. As the debate dragged on, the consultants planning the regional airport decided it needed only one 10,000-foot runway but with room for the second. Then they decided the runway would be smaller, but with possibilities for expansion.
In other words, it would be a project costing hundreds of millions of dollars while offering nothing new. The Federal Aviation Administration announced it would no longer fund studies for the airport. The project died.
That was in 2004, the year before the study period used by the legislative auditors to evaluate the Public Port Authority.
Today, the Public Port Authority has no funding, no staff and no advocates. It has a long list of failed projects and no record of successful ones.
Thus, it appears, there is no reason for the Public Port Authority to stay on the books unless something comes along that would justify its being reactivated.
Every now and then, someone suggests that all new government programs or agencies be created with sunset provisions. After a set number of years, they would have to justify their existence or else be terminated. The state’s experience with the Public Port Authority gives credibility to that idea.
The failure to date of the Heartland Intermodal Gateway gives the governor and legislators the justification to dissolve the Public Port Authority and to look for other state agencies that have outlived their usefulness.