MONTICELLO, NY — Information has been scarce about the agreement between Hatzolah Air and Sullivan County, an agreement that will lead to the construction of a 20,000 square foot hangar and …
MONTICELLO, NY — Information has been scarce about the agreement between Hatzolah Air and Sullivan County, an agreement that will lead to the construction of a 20,000 square foot hangar and global headquarters for the humanitarian air-transport nonprofit.
A public hearing on the project on September 27, 2021 focused on how little the public knew about it. When legislators met months later to discuss the agreement, they highlighted holes in their own awareness; they hadn’t learned the terms of the agreement until after it had been signed.
Representatives from Hatzolah Air showed up at the February 10 committee meetings of the Sullivan County Legislature with information aplenty, giving a presentation on the nonprofit’s history, mission and aims within Sullivan County.
Hatzolah Air was a spin-off of the volunteer EMS organization Hatzolah, said Eli Rowe, president of Hatzolah Air. Hatzolah was founded in Brooklyn over 50 years ago as a quick-response first aid squad, he said, and it has spread worldwide since then. “In dozens and dozens of cities and countries and states and counties across the world, you’ll find local Hatzolah branches.”
Rowe himself has served as a paramedic with Hatzolah and as a pilot, and has been called upon to serve in both capacities in the past, flying people who needed medical treatment. The idea behind Hatzolah Air came from those experiences, and years ago, he sat down with the executive leadership of Hatzolah in New York and got their agreement to found that division.
Since that meeting, “we set about, and we opened the division of Hatzolah Air, that flies people we never met for free to the craziest places” for emergency medical treatment, said Rowe. As Hatzolah has branches all over the world, so too is Hatzolah Air global in scope; Rowe described flying patients from London to Boston, from Cancun to New York for treatment, and said that the division’s vision is to have seven sub-bases in regions including LA, Israel and South America.
Sullivan County’s airport, and the hangar that Hatzolah Air plans to build there, will serve as the headquarters at the center of that global network.
“We’re looking to create a firehouse mentality,” said Rowe. “Where we have, for example, a seven-day-on, seven-day-off environment, and say, 24 hours a day, we get that lights and bells go off, that everybody can jump down and go.”
Creating that mentality would require a facility that could comfortably house pilots, medics and support staff alike for extended periods of time—“We can’t just put them in a closet and say ‘Stay there’”—and Hatzolah Air plans to build a facility suited for those needs.
The plans Hatzolah Air presented before the legislature call for a three-story hangar. The facility would include room for four airplanes and two helicopters, 26 bedrooms for pilots and staff and a suite of training simulations for pilots and medical staff alike.
“We came up with something that I think is not just magnificent for us, but would be magnificent for the county, would be able to attract others like us to the county.”
During the presentation, legislative chair Rob Doherty asked Rowe a number of questions about the financial aspects of the deal, several of which had been discussed as potential concerns by legislators and members of the public at earlier meetings.
The agreement as currently written states that Hatzolah Air has a 30-year lease with the county, and that the agreement will be renewed for three more 30-year terms unless Hatzolah Air gives the county a non-renewal notice. Doherty asked whether Hatzolah Air would move forward with the project if the FAA limited the term of the lease to 50 years.
“So it may, is the answer,” said Rowe.
“Or may not,” said Doherty.
“It may not, is also the answer.”
The issue was the scale of the investment, says Rowe. The organization trusted that, if it did good work, the county would want to continue doing business with them, whatever the term of the lease. But at a guess, the facility as they wanted to build it would cost around $26 million, and the donors who would provide the funding for the project might be less generous if Hatzolah Air’s position within the county were less certain.
Doherty also asked about the organization’s agreement to buy fuel for their aircraft from the county. “In the lease, it provides that you may purchase fuel from the county; is it your intention to purchase the majority of your fuel from us or elsewhere?”
It wouldn’t make a difference, said Rowe; the way the lease was currently written, Hatzolah Air agreed to pay the county 30 cents a gallon whether it used the county’s fuel farms or its own.
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