So ... the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey wants to take over Atlantic City International Airport. On Thursday, to the surprise of just about everyone down here in this part of the state, the agency voted to spend $3 million for a feasibility study of the takeover.
Local officials said they knew little or nothing about the Port Authority's plans, at least little that they were willing to talk about publicly.
The South Jersey Transportation Authority currently controls the airport. But the Port Authority is the big dog in any fight. It gets what it wants. And it doesn't do anything without the blessing of Gov. Chris Christie.
So could someone - please - tell us folks down here in South Jersey what the heck is going on?
The Port Authority's move comes just days after the SJTA cut $1.3 million from its planned $6.2 million subsidy of the airport's $15.9 million operating budget for this year.
The SJTA was created in 1991 explicitly to subsidize the airport with revenue generated by the Atlantic City Expressway, which the SJTA also oversees. Now, Sam Donelson, acting executive director of the SJTA, is saying the airport should eventually be a self-sufficient operation.
Something is clearly afoot with our airport, and it sure would be nice if someone would tell the people who are paying the salaries of just about everyone involved what is going on.
Why the concern? Simple. Because when people from outside South Jersey propose some change for South Jersey, it's usually not really about helping South Jersey.
The Port Authority has said that Atlantic City International Airport could help relieve congestion at Newark Liberty International, John F. Kennedy International and LaGuardia airports, which the authority already controls.
But that's a little unclear to us. Certainly, no one flying into New York is going to be very happy about being diverted to Atlantic City, a good two and a half hours away from the city by car or bus.
If the Port Authority could somehow leverage its power with the airlines to get more scheduled air service for Atlantic City, that certainly would be a plus. But if major airlines thought routes to Atlantic City would be profitable, they would already be flying them.
The airport, of course, is crucial to the success of Atlantic City. Tourism will never reach its full potential without more air service to the resort and a thriving airport. Indeed, that was why the SJTA was originally created - to prop up this necessary piece of infrastructure.
Port Authority chairman David Samson said the takeover "could relieve pressure at Newark, and it could be an independent generator of income for us, through passenger and air cargo. It's potentially a very valuable asset."
That's nice. But what does South Jersey get out of the Port Authority taking over the airport?
And why is the SJTA suddenly backing away from subsidizing it?