Luzerne County’s reactivated Forty Fort Airport Advisory Board met at the county courthouse Wednesday, with members saying they are committed to supporting the 110-acre, county-owned complex in Forty Fort and Wyoming.
“I have a huge interest in the airport, and that’s why I’m here,” said Nanda Palissery, who was named board chairman.
Council members have been pushing to fill vacant seats on the board because it had become dormant for years, cutting off a vital resource to promote and advocate for the facility the county acquired in the 1940s.
While four seats are still vacant, six citizens have been appointed to serve in the volunteer role — enough to start meeting again. In addition to Palissery, the board members are: Michael Berish, Alice Frantz, Theodore Ritsick, Scott Serafin and David Sieminski. County Councilman Kevin Lescavage is serving as the council liaison on the board.
Board members selected Berish as vice chairman and Ritsick as secretary.
The board agreed the best first step will be a tour of the complex later this month to be scheduled with Valley Aviation, the airport’s fixed base operator.
Lescavage and Councilman Brian Thornton are pushing for increased investment in the facility, including a multimillion-dollar allocation from the county’s federal American Rescue funding. In addition to typical airport services, the complex operates a pilot training program and serves as a fueling station for medevac and law enforcement aircraft.
County Manager Romilda Crocamo, County Controller Walter Griffith, Thornton and Council Vice Chairman John Lombardo all addressed the new board members Wednesday, thanking them for volunteering.
Crocamo said she was “impressed and excited” when she recently visited the facility with Thornton and Lescavage, describing the airport as a “hidden gem.” She has started working on documentation required for council to make a decision on the American Rescue funding and also pledged to seek Pennsylvania Department of Transportation grant funding that may be available.
The airport is at the core of economic development in that community and can be a “destination point,” Crocamo told the board.
“We’re going to make this work. I will be there every step of the way with you,” she said.
Griffith said the airport is a “crown jewel” and that a functioning advisory board has been identified as a critical need in controller’s office audits.
Lombardo, who heads the council committee that interviews prospective board applicants, urged interested citizens to apply for the remaining open seats. He said he wholeheartedly supports the airport and would “love to see it advance.”
Thornton said renewed focus on the airport is “long overdue” because the facility has untapped potential. He praised members of the Scrobola family who operate the facility through Valley Aviation, saying they have “an unwavering, eternal love for that airport.”
Some work is necessary at the airport to comply with current standards, such as enhancements to taxiway areas that accommodate aircraft landing and taking off, Thornton said.
Lescavage encouraged advisory board members to think outside the box for ways to maximize use of the facility, even beyond aviation. One of his ideas: Saturday night drag races with food trucks.
“Who knows what else you could do with it?” Lescavage said.
Palissery, an attorney, said he received his private pilot license at the Wyoming Valley Airport but hasn’t flown in many years. While he has served on boards, he said he never chaired one and thanked colleagues for the opportunity.
The airport has required little county general fund investment over the decades because the state and federal government had covered most past capital project costs, officials have said. The county receives a portion of revenue from fuel sales at the facility.
The county also owns an office building — the West Side Annex — near the airport complex along Route 11, and Forty Fort manages the county’s adjacent 35-acre sports complex as part of an overall plan to make the borough a recreation center.
In addition, the county is remodeling the former Air Reserve Center in an environmentally-conscious way to house the county recycling department — a project fully covered by years of saving excess landfill fees and grant funding. The county had taken possession of the vacant property around 2019.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.