The Messenger 02.24.12
By KEVIN BOWDEN
Business is picking up at Everett-Stewart Regional Airport, but airport officials are having to deal with stifling state bureaucracy that is frustrating members of the airport board.
The airport is working on two major projects totaling an estimated $1.6 million but, due to state restrictions, the local airport board is having to take a creative approach to the projects.
The airport board is working with establishing an agri-business development at the airport and an aircraft maintenance business is ready to permanently set up shop at the airport. Those two projects will require about $1.6 million from the airport for site preparation work and other expenses.
As with most major airport projects, the airport board is relying on state funding, and that’s where the projects are being delayed.
State aeronautics officials have recommended the local airport combine the two projects and submit a combined funding proposal as a prerequisite for state funding. The problem is the airport would be required to come up with an estimated $160,000 (10 percent) as the local match for the two projects.
“I’m for doing the bigger project,” Randy Hudgings with Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon Inc., told the airport board Thursday evening. Hudgings serves as a consultant to the board and works as a liaison between the board and state aeronautics officials.
The board spent 40 minutes of its hour-long meeting Thursday discussing how to proceed and how to come up with the $160,000 for the two projects.
“I like the idea of combining the two projects,” Hudgings said. “It’s more efficient.”
The problem for the airport board is coming up with the local match for the projects.
There are some options available, but the board doesn’t currently have enough money for the local match, which is required for the grant application to be approved.
Airport officials appeared determined not to request more funding from Obion or Weakley counties, but are instead looking to U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development officials and possibly the state Department of Economic Development for funding.
Although no official action was taken Thursday evening, the board agreed to a recommendation from Hudgings to proceed with the project and grant application, but will only ask for enough funding to complete the design phase of the project. That would cost the local airport about $32,000 and would leave open the option to proceed with the construction phase of the project later this year.
Handling the matter that way will delay the project by up to three months, but would comply with the conditions of the grant application.
The airport board is expected to continue discussion of the issue at its next meeting, which is set for 5 p.m. March 15. Hudgings and airport manager Jo Ann Speer are expected to give an update on the grant application at that meeting.
At one point during the discussion Thursday, airport commissioner Jim Bondurant described the dilemma as “growing pains.”
Around the table, there was an obvious sense of frustration among airport commissioners over how the state is handling the funding request.
Also during Thursday evening’s meeting, the airport board:
• Announced it will seek bids for a tractor and mower to be used to maintain the property around the runway area, estimated at 170 acres. Mrs. Speer also announced 1,000 pounds of Bermuda grass seed has been donated to the airport.
• Was given a projects update report from Hudgings that included the decommissioning of an underground storage tank, security fencing, work on the runway, an update on a multiple-unit hangar and airfield lighting.
In attendance at Thursday’s airport board meeting was Obion County Mayor Benny McGuire and Weakley County Mayor Houston Patrick.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by email at email@example.com.