Mouth That Roars

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself of National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the "MOUTH THAT ROARS" Column in the Sullivan County Post.

- Subsribe at
August 7th, 2015

Don’t Waste a Million Dollars!

As Sullivan County scrapes to find money to repair our roads, as our Adult Care facility is desperately in need of more staffing, as Sullivan County taxpayers struggle to make ends meet – The Sullivan County Legislature is considering spending $ 1 million to expand a hangar at the airport.

The argument is that as our county opens a legalized casino and begins to attract a wealthier crowd such an airport hangar will be needed. Perhaps that is true, and if it is, then the private sector should step in and fund it. There is just so much a cash strapped county can do.

Please – Sullivan County Legislators – Don’t Waste a Million Dollars!

Legislator Alan Sorensen is among those legislators leading the fight to stop funding the airport from happening. Sorensen’s position is also to develop a public/private partnership to fund it.

We all need to be reminded that the airport was originally built because the hotels convinced the county that they needed the airport in order to stay in business. It wasn’t true then and it likely isn’t true now.

In fact, it is chronicled in the New York Times that the hotels promised to purchase enough tickets to make the airport profitable, whether they were sold or not, and then reneged on the deal the very first year.

This new project is supposedly going to be made affordable because there is federal money available. The original construction was supposedly made affordable because there was a large amount of federal money available. It still cost considerably more than it was supposed to, even with all the corners that were cut in the construction, which spurred a federal investigation.

The airport was a boondoggle from the beginning and it has been bad money after good ever since. What has it really contributed to the economy of Sullivan County?

An article that appeared in the New York Times discussing the Sullivan County Airport several years ago stated, “Local officials anticipated cavalcades of jets unloading swarms of tourists ready to play the casinos that long have been discussed as a way of rejuvenating the area’s depressed economy. But the slot machines never came and the jets never arrived.”

Legislator Alan Sorensen recently said in his blog, “The airport was overbuilt in 1969 in anticipation with the coming of gaming and with gaming now here, may finally be right-sized for its future operation. Now is not the time for County government to overbuild it once again.”

“Instead, we should be looking for public-private partnerships to ensure that future improvements are right-sized from the start. If private industry thinks there is a market for bigger hangers, then reason would have it that they would be willing to put their money down to secure a return on their investment.”

Sorensen added, “This approach would reduce the risks to taxpayers, help to ensure our facilities are right-sized and enable the County to better address critical infrastructure needs like our County roads and bridges or finding a suitable facility for our County Road Patrol offers who are asked to work in deplorable conditions.”

Sorensen added that his research on “” revealed that a 10,000 square foot commercial hanger at Islip Macarther Airport in Long Island was renting for $6,000 per month, about the price the County would have to rent the proposed hanger to cover the additional $1,000,000 debt service on the larger hanger. “I am not convinced we can command that kind of rent at SCIA,” Sorensen added.

Legislator Cora Edwards told me “There are quite a few reasons why I think the expanded airport hangar proposal is a “bad deal” for the Sullivan County taxpayer. Edwards cited the following reasons:

1. The original proposal was for a DOT grant for 1 million square feet at $891,000 in grant funding (still taxpayer’s money although not local share) and $99,000 in local share. That is a good deal for the Sullivan County taxpayer. However, the proposed “expanded” hangar with an extra 400.000 square feet would cost the Sullivan County taxpayer an additional $1 million in bonding. That is the equivalent of a 2% tax increase (every $500.00 being another 1% tax hike on the tax levy).

2. Verbal sources (nothing written) disagree on whether there is a need for additional hangar space and whether the market will provide a “return on the investment.” If, for example the Wilkes-Barre PA airport has empty hangar space that isn’t leased (despite the proximity to the Mohegan Sun casino that is already open) then the NJ operators are giving inaccurate information to the legislators. Additionally, the public comment made by the NJ operator at last Thursday’s full board meeting was so badly presented, it was not something on which to base a one million dollar bond.

3. A question that has not been answered by anybody: Are the corporate jets that are supposedly going to use that hangar space for companies that get tax breaks? If so, then why can’t they pay their fare share for services they will use – and are not for the general public?

4. Another question – Suppose the County did decide to go for the expanded hangar space on the assumption (projections) that the hangar space would “pay for itself” with the leasing fees – would the Sullivan County taxpayer get a rebate when the hangar is paid off?

5. Additional information in the public comment period was provided by Star Hesse, who stated that the cost of the expanded hangar space was inflated and could be accomplished with the grant funding alone.

Edwards said she voted to table the resolution because she did not have the details “about the other airports to hand, and had been asked to table the resolution pending further information.”

I hope the legislature does the right thing.

Sullivan County Historian John Conway wrote two columns over the years relating to the airport. I would like to share them with you now.

by John Conway
July 27, 2012


It has been said before, and it bears repeating that virtually every significant historic or economic milestone in Sullivan County’s history has been the result of a major breakthrough in transportation.

This phenomenon started back in 1764, when Daniel Skinner envisioned a way to utilize the Delaware River to transport timber to Philadelphia where it could be sold to the ship building industry, giving birth to the region’s first great industry. It continued through the construction of the Newburgh-Cochecton Turnpike, which enabled the population of Sullivan County to double in the first twenty years of its existence. The D&H Canal, completed in 1828, also spurred a population explosion, as well as the tanning and bluestone industries, and the arrival of the railroads in the second half of the 19th Century was the final piece in the county’s transition from an industrial economy to a tourism economy. The Liberty Highway in 1918 and the Quickway in 1958, each in its own way contributed to major changes in the county’s resort industry.

The construction of Sullivan County International Airport in 1969 was envisioned as another major breakthrough in transportation that would foster a significant economic milestone, the rebirth of the county’s floundering resort industry.
It didn’t quite work out that way.

There certainly was a sense of optimism and enthusiasm when the new airport opened in July of 1969, its 6,500 foot runway designed to handle twin-engine jets as large as the 105-passenger Douglas DC-9 and the three engine Boeing 727.

“Everybody who owns a piece of real estate is hanging on to it and anywhere in the county prices have grown six times in value,” Steve Stetka, Chairman of the Sullivan County Board of Supervisors told the New York Times.

”What the completion of the $6.5 million project, whose finishing and not-so-finishing touches are still to be applied, has created here is a general feeling of optimism that a surge of economic development will occur in the next few years,” Times reporter Leonard Sloane wrote in a July 28 article that year. “To this well-known 1,500 square mile resort area north of New York City, such development will be welcome.

“Not only will it bring additional business visitors and vacationers to the Catskill region, local enthusiasts believe, but it will also serve as a spur to existing businesses and a magnet for the light industry and research plants that are being sought.”

Of course, much of the impetus for the construction of the airport came from the local resorts, a $60 million annual industry that was struggling, and for whom it was envisioned as a much needed savior.

“Speak to members of the Catskills Resort Association– who handled 4,500 groups among their 2 million visitors in 1968 and expect substantially more in the years ahead—and you find an overall anticipation that their market, both for convention and individual sales, is about to expand dramatically,” the Times reported shortly after the airport officially opened. “‘The Catskills have always drawn upon New York as its prime source of revenue,’ says Howard L. Bern, director of sales at Grossinger’s. Now, as transportation to get here becomes easier, the perimeter of business becomes larger.’

“Gordon Winarick, executive director of the Concord, points out that ‘the airport, a status symbol, has jelled us into the concept of thinking as an area. It’s not going to happen automatically but it will become a very vital link for us.’”

And the hotels were also viewed as a vital link in the success of the airport. Grossinger’s and Kutsher’s collaborated on a plan to encourage vacationers to fly in on charter flights from cities such as Pittsburgh, Detroit, Baltimore and Washington. The Concord organized a plan with 14 other hotels, some of them not in Sullivan County, to offer an all-inclusive Sunday to Sunday tour package to people in Chicago and the Midwest for $239. The plan was for tourists to spend the first four nights at a Sullivan County resort, one night in a motel in Catskill, in Greene County, and Friday and Saturday nights at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City, travelling between the points on a sightseeing bus.

“There is no doubt that all the major hotels in our area eventually will be involved in encouraging charter flights to the new airport,” Grossinger’s General Manager Morton Sunshine told the Times. “The airport is sure to help us all, and we are determined to help the airport. Indeed , we are even encouraging our personnel to use Mohawk’s regularly scheduled flights whenever they have occasion to travel.”

Mohawk Airlines was the first scheduled carrier to use the new facility, and provided the “International” for the airport’s official title by way of its scheduled flights from Montreal and to Toronto. Daily flights also departed for Buffalo, Elmira and New York, connecting travelers to Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington.

Despite the optimism that accompanied the airport’s opening, however, it never fulfilled expectations, or even came close. Plagued by problems from the outset, including a long, brutal winter and labor problems that delayed construction and pushed its completion date from spring to mid-summer, the facility went through five operators in its first four years of operation, and by 1972 was under investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s office for alleged fraud during its construction.

In 1985, the Times ran a story about the nearly deserted operation under the headline, “In the Catskills, An international Airport Airlines Don’t Use.”

More on that next week.

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. He can be contacted by e-mail at


by John Conway
August 3, 2012


When Sullivan County officials announced in December of 1966 that they had received a Federal grant for the construction of an airport large enough to accommodate commercial jet planes, they envisioned bringing new resort business and eventually new industry into the county.

When the Sullivan County International Airport finally opened in July of 1969, county officials and local businessmen predicted it would “open new vistas” for the county. Sullivan County National Bank chairman Joseph Fersh was among several quoted in the New York Times’ July 28, 1969 edition.

“We will attract more affluent people to the area than we now have,” he said. “And this has to have a terrific impact on the entire economy.”

Lumber yard owner and home builder Manny Bogner of Monticello was even more effusive. “We have already found that a lot of people whose occupation is not a fixed- base occupation, like sales people or entertainment people, have been increasingly ready to move up here because they’re now in touch with the whole Northeast,” he told the Times.

And insurance executive Max Rhulen added, “It’s quite conceivable that we’ll develop some sort of aviation industry in the area. After all, we have the longest runway between New York and Buffalo.”

Within a few years, however, the airport had gone through five fixed base operators and the United States Attorney’s office was investigating reports that the Federal Government had been defrauded in the construction of the facility.

“According to local sources close to this quiet investigation, witnesses have testified that runway soil samples were falsified to conceal findings that the soil in places would not support the proposed runways,” the Times reported on July 15, 1973. “Some county officials and businessmen were also reported under suspicion for allegedly improperly benefiting from construction work at the airport.”

The leak to the media that the federal investigation was underway prompted one county official to ask the Sullivan County District Attorney to impanel a special grand jury to investigate “all phases of design, construction and operation” of the airport.

John J.J. McGough, the county’s Commissioner of Public Works and chairman of the County Airport Commission, wrote to District Attorney Louis Scheinman that he was “personally unaware of any impropriety or wrongdoings by anyone involved in or connected to the airport” and promised his full cooperation if Scheinman agreed to the request. McGough noted that articles in the New York Times and Middletown Times Herald-Record newspapers had raised a cloud of suspicion in the minds of the public with allegations and innuendoes about the project and a grand jury would be the only way to remove the suspicions.
Scheinman denied the request about a week later, saying he had never seen any evidence of any impropriety and no one had ever come forward to present charges.

“If there were any evidence of wrongdoing, the investigation would be underway,” Scheinman said. “But the grand jury has more to do than answer letters and conduct investigations to clear one man’s name.”

Even as the federal investigation was underway, another controversy had enveloped the airport. Absent an operator and a carrier to serve it on a regular basis, county officials drew up a contract with Hudson Valley Airways, which was newly owned and operated by Robert H. Abplanalp, owner of the Eldred Preserve resort and a close friend of President Richard Nixon.

The contract, the Times reported, “would be for up to 38 years under terms generally considered even by the county officials who agreed to them unusually favorable to the multimillionaire.”

The contract, according to the Times, would have required Abplanalp to pay the county just $55,000 a year through 1981 and then slightly more than that through 2011. In return, the county would commit to “maintaining the grounds and runways, expanding certain facilities and building access roads to any facility Mr. Abplanalp constructs” while exempting him from sales tax “or any other charges, fees, or tolls of any nature” in airport transactions.

Many locals hollered “giveaway” and asked that the contract not be signed.

Milton Levine, chairman of the county’s Board of Supervisors, admitted that the deal was more than just a bit one sided, and yet acknowledged the county had little choice.

“It’s a bad contract- let me be honest with you,” Levine told the Times. “But I am interested in seeing this airport operate on any terms. I wouldn’t care if there is no contract.”

Leon Greenberg, president of Monticello Raceway and the Catskill Resort Association, as well as the secretary of the Airport Commission, added that “air service is vitally needed and beggars can’t be choosers.”

Nonetheless, after months of controversy, Abplanalp, citing lack of public support for his taking over the airport, declined to sign the contract, leaving county officials back at square one.

Though the federal investigation eventually fizzled out, the airport’s fate never improved. In fact, in September of 1985, the New York Times was prompted to run an article about the facility under the headline “In Catskills, An International Airport Airlines Don’t Use.”

“With great pomp and ceremony, an international airport opened 16 years ago in this tiny rural community in the Catskills, 100 miles from New York City,” the article began. “The Sullivan County International Airport was paid for with $4 million from the Federal Government and $2 million from the county. Local officials anticipated cavalcades of jets unloading swarms of tourists ready to play the casinos that long have been discussed as a way of rejuvenating the area’s depressed economy.
“But the slot machines never came and the jets never arrived.”

John Conway is the Sullivan County Historian. E-mail him at

Bill Liblick has made a name for himself on National TV Talk Shows where he spouted his outspoken views from the front row. Now he offers you his opinion every week in the “MOUTH THAT ROARS” Column in THE SULLIVAN COUNTY POST.

1 comment to Don’t Waste a Million Dollars!

  • Steve Gastwirth

    If the gambling mecca is ever realized at the former Concord site there will be plenty of time to re-infuse the airport’s form and function. In the meantime monies can be put to better use in the county

    Gambling is not going to be the salvation it is projected to be as all gambling destinations have been experiencing declines in revenue based upon tremendous competition in the gaming industry. The time for that to have taken place was in the sixties, seventies, or even the eighties,but no one could foresee the changing travel habits,inexpensive airfare, and affordable vacation destinations which would become available to such a large segment of our population.This all added to the decline of an aging hotel and bungalow way of life that the glorious Catskills was known for.