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Airport extension project hangs by a 65-acre thread

Airport extension project hangs by a 65-acre thread

Posted: Friday, December 5, 2008 9:12 pm
By: John Brannon Messenger Staff Reporter

 Part 1 of 2 By JOHN BRANNON Messenger Staff Reporter A 65-acre portion of a 429-acre tract of farmland near Midway community demonstrates a classic American conflict: Public need versus private property. Opposing forces are Everett-Stewart Regional Airport, a public entity, and property owners associated with a quitclaim deed filed April 4, 1998, with the Obion County Register of Deeds. Styled as the Latimer 1998 Grandchildren’s Trust, the deed was executed by William H. “Bill” Latimer of Union City to William Bonner Latimer. Union City attorney John Warner Jr. was named as trustee. Most of the 429 acres — the Latimer property — is used for farming row crops such as soybeans. The property also contains a two-bedroom house, a barn, a silo and some sheds. The property is located immediately south of the north-south runway at Everett-Stewart Re-gional Airport. Synopsis A brief history: On Dec. 1, 2006, county court authorities in Weakley and Obion counties signed an agreement of cooperation, meaning both counties would have a voice in operations and contribute funding. By promulgating the agreement, commissioners changed the name of the airport from Everett-Stewart Airport to Ever-ett-Stewart Regional Airport. The agreement also provided that Obion County will have four seats on the airport’s governing body and Weakley County three. Dr. Chris Gooch of Troy, who serves as chairman of the airport commission, recently discussed several projects accomplished by the bi-county commission. But one project still waits in the wings, and it’s bigger than all the rest. Runway extension With an eye on economic development, the airport com mission wants to extend the airport’s one and only runway by 1,500 feet — from 5,000 feet to 6,500 feet. The Latimer property lies directly in the path of the proposed extension. Extending the north end of the runway is not feasible because of the close proximity of Highway 22, a four-lane throughway between Union City and Martin. Protection zone Gooch said acquisition of 65 acres of the Latimer property would provide for runway extension of 1,500 feet as well as a runway protection zone (RPZ). An RPZ, as required of each airport by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), begins 200 feet beyond the end of a runway. No habitable structures may be located within an RPZ. An RPZ begins 200 feet beyond the end of a runway. An extension of a runway would push the RPZ farther out, in a fan-shaped pattern. “Therefore, when you extend this runway (by 1,500 feet), the RPZ is going to incorporate most of the structures (already there),” Gooch said. Hence, the farm silo would be taken down because it would impact air safety. Why not an easement? Twice the airport commission approached FAA with a proposal, the essence of which was, “Instead of buying (the property), can we get an easement, like a zoning restriction, so that nothing else would be built there?” FAA’s reply? “Both times they said, ‘No, you have to own it,’” Gooch said. And FAA gave a reason why not. In a runway protection zone there cannot be any habitable structures. You can’t have something that a vagrant or homeless person could get into and stay there, because when a plane comes in on approach, that’s when it’s most likely to have an accident. Which brings to mind a liability factor. “If it kills somebody, there’s going to be two counties with their necks on the chopping block,” Gooch said. “So we’ve got to own it and we’ve got to remove the habitable structures.” A need Local government cannot on its own enact a project such as extension of a runway of a city- or county-owned airport. State and federal authorities who promulgate, administer and enforce rules and regulations associated with civil aviation must be consulted and must approve before the project can proceed. In this instance, the airport commission has shown why the project is needed. In doing so, the commission has been working with the Aeronautics Division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Gooch said an extension of the runway by 1,500 feet would render it capable of receiving heavier aircraft such as those used by corporate giants Goodyear Tire & Rubber and Tyson Foods. “Over the last 25 years, the size and weight of business aircraft has increased,” he said. “Tyson has a Global Express, a jet that has a 7,000-mile range. It’s never been in here, that I know of.” Hence, extending the runway would enhance economic development in northwest Tennessee. Long-term process Gooch said the project to acquire the 65 acres from the Latimer trust has been under way two or three years. He said that in addition to negotiating with the private parties involved, the commission has: • Acquired and paid $40,000 for a justification study to show a need for the extension. The $40,000 had to be paid in advance. “If the project is approved, you get 90 percent of it back. If it’s not approved, you get nothing. Ours was approved. It shows a definite need now,” he said. “It’s not like (the movie) ‘Field of Dreams.’ You can’t say, ‘If we build it, they will come.’ You’ve got to say, ‘They’re coming. We’ve got to build.’” • Acquired and paid $50,000 for an airport layout plan as well as a later update of the plan. “We had to show where the runway extension would be and how it would impact structures on and off the airport,” Gooch said. • Acquired and paid for an environmental assessment — “historical (landmarks) and noise abatement issues” — at a cost of $30,000. Gooch emphasizes the commission has done those three things by working with TDOT. But it would have been impossible to do them without the help of a philanthropist who wishes to remain anonymous. “He gave the airport $100,000. That money was used to pay for the justification study and the environmental assessment study and an update of the airport layout plan,” Gooch said. “We’ve done those three things by working with TDOT. “Right now the thing that’s holding us up is the acquisition of 65 acres of land on the south end of the runway.” Part two of this two-part series will address negotiations between the airport commission and the private property owners. Published in The Messenger 12.5.08

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