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Mirabito receives commitment to return Aviation Unit to Williamsport
By State Representative Rick Mirabito's office
June 28, 2012
At a Capitol news conference today, state Reps. Rick Mirabito, D-Lycoming, and Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, called on the governor and the Pennsylvania State Police to return the Aviation Patrol Unit to the Williamsport Regional Airport. Also attending were Reps. Robert L. Freeman, D-Northampton, and Tina Davis, D-Bucks, as well as Lycoming County community leaders.
"We want the public to understand that this is not only a critical issue for the rural communities of north central Pennsylvania but it is vital for all of Pennsylvania," Mirabito said. "We believe it is in the best interests of the safety and security of our region and our state to have the unit returned, and we also believe it can be accomplished without jeopardizing funding for the troopers on the ground.
Mirabito noted that the issue is critical for all of Pennsylvania because the aviation growth resulting from the Marcellus Shale, we well as the aviation unit's elevation and proximity to the northern tier, protect the safety of all citizens.
"I am happy to report that I have received assurances from Republican leadership that language to return the aviation unit to Williamsport will be included in the Fiscal Code," Mirabito said. "The return requires no increase or shift in funding. This is a good public policy decision and it is the right thing to do for the safety of all Pennsylvanians."
Everett, a former Air Force aviator, said, "Aviation is a force multiplier. It adds so much to response capability to assist law enforcement on the ground. It has been rewarding to see the community's response to this issue. The people came to us. They told us they want the unit returned."
The Pennsylvania State Police moved Aviation Patrol Unit IV to Hazleton in January. Retired State Police pilots David Frey and Denny Hoak compared the elevation of Hazleton to the Williamsport Airport and said Williamsport's lower elevation makes it easier to take off and move quickly in response to emergencies. Frey said, "Response time is critical. Every pilot is concerned about location when you are coming to the aid of emergency responders."
"The residents of north central Pennsylvania have suffered greatly from natural disasters over the last few years," Hoak said. "Aviation Unit IV was one of the busiest in the state. Why close this unit down and move to the eastern part of the state which will add response time, increase fuel costs and will not be able to cover the area as residents, police and emergency personnel are accustomed to having?"
Muncy Borough Police Chief Richard Sutton said he believes moving the aviation unit away from the Williamsport Airport was ill-advised. "Lycoming County has numerous wooded areas, country roads and a transient population that makes child abduction a strong possibility. We should not wait for an hour or more for a valuable asset such as an aviation unit helicopter." Sutton serves as president of the Lycoming County Law Enforcement Association.
Duboistown Borough Council President Michael Caschera said, "Change is only good if it makes sense. The aviation unit was a key part of service provided by law enforcement and emergency response teams to Lycoming and its contiguous counties."
Geoff Knauth, a pilot, said he is concerned about the influx of people and increased activities related to Marcellus Shale drilling. "Without air support law enforcement is made more difficult for those working at ground level."
Jim Dunn, an Armstrong Township supervisor, said, "Elected officials have the responsibility to protect the safety, health and welfare of the people they serve in as coordinated an effort as possible. A more centrally-located aviation unit can make the difference."