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Will Hill make peace with the airport?

Hank Hayes • May 23, 2018 at 6:30 PM

Someone was missing last Friday when oversized ceremonial checks were being doled out to localities by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD).

That person was Tennessee state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough.

The event was held at the Tri-Cities Airport on the mezzanine level. Hill’s colleagues, all Republican lawmakers, were there to get their smiling faces included in pictures taken with constituents.

NETWORKS Sullivan Partnership is getting $1 million from ECD to develop rail access at Partnership Park II in Bristol, Tri-Cities Airport is being handed $500,000 for Aerospace Park grading and the town of Erwin is getting $500,000 to rehab an old building.

Hill burned a lot of regional goodwill built up over several months by filing legislation to create a lawmaker executive board to oversee the Airport Authority and its handling of the Aerospace Park project. His bill also would have taken away the airport’s First Amendment rights by prohibiting it from hiring a lobbyist.

The bill got tons of pushback.

Hill never tried to move the bill forward.

Was he being vindictive against someone by filing the bill? I guess only he knows.

Still, the legislation left a bad taste in the mouths of people who united the region to get behind the Aerospace Park project because it could mean up to 2,000 aviation-related jobs. Hill’s district would benefit.

I cover the airport, and I’ve seen the due diligence airport Executive Director Patrick Wilson and Airport Authority commissioners have done to make this idea happen. The Airport Authority has sold $8.5 million in bonds to match future grants. Bonds will be payable solely from Aerospace Park net revenues, according to an executive summary of the bond sale. “Since no net revenues are anticipated in the foreseeable future, it is expected that the principal of and interest on the Series 2018 Bonds will be primarily repaid in the near-term future from amounts payable by the Tennessee Authority Members under the Guaranty Agreements,” the summary also pointed out. In other words, Northeast Tennessee cities and counties are the guarantors of the bonds.

The $500,000 site development grant put the project’s grant funding at around $5 million, according to Wilson. Airport officials will be going after future grant dollars.

To date, airport officials say more than $23 million has been invested in infrastructure serving the total 160-acre area including grading a portion of the site, constructing an industrial access road and installing utilities.

Hill’s brother, Blountville Republican state Rep. Timothy Hill, passed legislation allowing the airport to borrow money. So was there any communication there? Timothy Hill signed on to his brother’s bill as a co-sponsor, as did state Reps. Bud Hulsey of Kingsport, Micah Van Huss of Jonesborough and John Crawford of Kingsport. Did they really think Matthew Hill’s airport bill was a good idea? Looks like they got conned.

As for what should happen moving forward, Matthew Hill needs to make peace with airport officials, although I strongly suspect that’s not going to happen.

Hank Hayes covers business and politics for the Times News. You can reach him at: [email protected]

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