When Plattsburgh International Airport opened in 2007, one of its marquee advantages over its competition was free parking. If travelers from Montreal were going to fly out of here instead of Montreal, Burlington or Albany, they'd have to have good reasons to do so. Free parking at the airport was one of those significant advantages.

And the advantage paid off. The Montreal news media have carried stories on the airport over the past three years, always mentioning, not only attractive prices and easy access, but free parking — the only airport of the three offering it. Drive past the airport anytime, and you'll see cars parked from curb to curb — hundreds of them. In fact, unfortunately, thousands, at times.

The free parking has been such an attractive incentive that it has been badly abused. Therefore, it's time to do something about it, the county feels.

Aerial photographs of the parking lot show some of the same cars parking in the same spots for months at a time. Airport officials have been told that local people have held family reunions during which kin park in the vast lot and carpool to the get-together, and they have no business at all in the lot.

The numbers are astounding. Airport Manager Tom Long reported that one day recently 2,500 cars were parked in the lot, which has capacity for 1,187. The airport parking capacity has even been expanded, but it can't keep up.

So the Clinton County Legislature is considering imposing a parking fee. That's a shame.

It's a shame because free parking was one of the ingredients that has been making the airport an early success. When one Montrealer says to another, "There's free parking down there!" it's many times better than saying, "The parking costs you only $5 a day!" Or $1 a day, even.

But that apparently is what it has come to, because the free parking was such an extraordinary advantage. The county can't have people parking there for months on end. Nor can it have people freeloading on the service.

So it has begun looking for solutions. Should a parking fee be instituted? Should an outside firm be brought in to run the parking end of the operation? Should the duty be entrusted to local people under the direction of the county? Should vehicles be screened as they enter the airport to ascertain they belong there and for how long? Should long-term parkers be charged but short-termers welcomed free?

These are all matters that will be discussed in the coming weeks. The sage decisions made so far in regard to the airport give us confidence that all issues will be thoroughly and wisely considered.

It would be a shame to abandon the abundantly successful free-parking concept. But if free parking must be sacrificed, we hope it will be replaced by very cheap parking.

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