The state House this week rejected a bid to return the state police aviation unit to the Williamsport Regional Airport, but that doesn't mean the fight is over.
State Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport, said he was encouraged by the House vote that fell short of making it closer to a reality.
"Last spring, while I was working to get the unit returned to the Williamsport airport, I received assurance from House majority leaders that the return of the unit would be included in the final state budget," he said. "Because of that assurance, I withdrew my amendment to the fiscal code mandating its return. As it turned out, the language was never included, and no directive ever issued to return the aviation unit."
This week, Mirabito introduced an amendment to include the aviation unit.
However, just 94 House members voted in support of the amendment - several votes short of passage.
State Reps. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, and Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, were among those voting in favor.
"We were eight votes shy," Mirabito said.
The lawmaker said the fight will go on, including that of convincing more of his House colleagues to get behind the issue.
Mirabito, Everett and state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, have all been vocal about the need for a state police helicopter in Lycoming County.
The lawmakers have repeatedly claimed that state police officials have never adequately explained why the decision was made to relocate the aviation unit to Hazleton.
They've asked why the helicopter was moved out of Lycoming County to a location where the higher elevation brings more frequent low cloud cover and a greater chance for aircraft to be grounded.
Until the past year the helicopter and a fixed wing airplane provided aerial support to federal and local law enforcement agencies and to assist in non-emergency situations.
Mirabito noted the aviation unit served the local airport for more than 40 years, providing major roles in rescue and support operations and natural disasters, including the September 2011 flood.