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Cargo airport impact study set

Martin Associates of Lancaster will do economic analysis before state commits funds to the project.

The state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee has selected Martin Associates to conduct an economic impact study of the proposed $1.6 billion cargo airport near Hazleton.

Martin Associates of Lancaster was chosen from four companies that responded to a request for a proposal made by the committee this summer, its executive director Philip Durgin said Tuesday.

Martin Associates’ Jeff Sweeney said the company has done economic impact studies on passenger and freight service at airports throughout the United States.

In this case, Martin Associates will look at a previous feasibility study to determine whether it is in line with the projections of the airport’s developers Gladstone Partners LP, and build a specific economic impact model for the greater Hazleton area.

“We’ll develop our own independent analysis,” said Sweeney, a research associate.

The company submitted a cost estimate of $195,176 to conduct the study called for by the state Senate in June. The committee sought outside help because it lacked the staff and capability to conduct the study. A contract has yet to be signed for the work, Durgin said.

Gladstone Partners LP announced plans for the airport in January, saying the project would create thousands of jobs and pump billions into the economy of Northeastern Pennsylvania.

The developer said a combination of private investment and public funding from Luzerne County and the state would be sought to build the airport promoted as an alternative to congested airports in the New York metropolitan area.

But before the state committed any funds to the project, state Sens. Ray Musto, D-Pittston Township, and Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, said they wanted answers on issues of financing, commitments from major air cargo carriers and the local impact on schools, emergency services and infrastructure.

The lawmakers introduced a resolution calling for the committee to study the economic impact of the proposed cargo airport.

Baker said she looked forward to Martin Associates taking an in-depth look at the project. “It’s the appropriate next step in the analysis,” she said.

Musto added, “It will be impartial and it will be professional.”

He maintained his stance that no public money be spent on the project “until we’re assured it’s a benefit to the state and the Hazleton area.”

Gladstone, headed by lawyer Robert Powell, had no comment.

The committee set a deadline of June 30, 2008 to report the findings and conclusions of the study to the full Senate.

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