09/29/11 — Mount Olive's airport eligble for a grant

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Mount Olive's airport eligble for a grant

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 29, 2011 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- Wednesday's announcement that the town's airport is eligible for $1.3 million in federal aviation funding is a bit of mixed blessing -- even if the town makes the cut, it will be faced with the daunting task of finding an approximately $130,000 local match in an already strapped budget.

Regardless, the town will attempt to get the money, Town Manager Charles Brown said following the Airport Committee's monthly session.

"We are in line to get that funding to resurface the runway," Brown said. "That is not a done deal, but we are on the eligibility list to get that money to resurface our entire runway. It is federal money."

Brown said the town was informed of its eligibility earlier in the day.

The town just recently completed extending the runway to 5,000 feet to handle larger aircraft, including jets.

The $1.3 million would fund repaving of the old 3,600 feet of runway.

"We have to apply for the funding," he said. "It will be 2012 and we will have to go through the state Division of Aviation. I don't when the money would become available.

"Of course, the town is going to have to come up with a match which we may or may not be able to do."

Brown said he couldn't provide a lot of detail about the grant because he didn't have much himself.

He said he did not know if the funding would be in the 2012 calendar year or the 2012-13 fiscal year.

"It would be a great asset for that airport to have a new surface on that runway," he said. "The old part has been there forever. Everybody knows that it has needed to be resurfaced for some time."

Brown said he "had no idea" how long it had been since the old section of runway had been put down.

The town has already applied for the grant, but it will be up to the town board to accept the grant if it is offered to the town, he said.

A more immediate issue that airport officials want to resolve is the clearing of trees near the runway.

Until the trees are taken down and the debris cleared to the state's satisfaction, the town's plans to construct a $140,000 jet fuel farm at the airport are on hold.

There are three areas around the airport that the state wants cleared before allowing the town to proceed with the fuel tank farm.

Another area includes 130 trees. However, there are only six that, because of their height, the state is adamant about being cut down.

"The rest of them are going to have to come down because that tree might not be an obstruction today, but next year it might be an obstruction," Brown said. "That will all be cleared."

Brown said local contractor Tony Jones, who is doing the work, had told him he thinks the work will be completed by this Friday. However, Brown said he will tell Jones it must be done, including cleanup, no later than Oct. 8.

The work needs to be completed prior to an expected visit by state aviation officials sometime during the second week in October.

During the meeting, committee members told Brown he also needed to tell Jones the town would seek other help if the job was not completed.

"I understand that," Brown said. "They want the runway safe foremost and the whole fuel farm is secondary to them."

Consultant Jay Talbert of Talbert and Bright told the committee he had taken photos at the airport in hopes state aviation officials would recall previous comments that once the clearing was started, the airport would be allowed to move forward with the fuel farm.

The state officials said they appreciated the photos, but did not comment on what they had previously said, Talbert said.

"She said, 'So much time has transpired. We have been messing with tree removal for over a year, and I want the trees cleared and cleaned up and then I will authorize for you to advertise the fuel,'" Talbert said. "She drew a hard line, 'I want all of the trees took down and cleaned up and everything done before I do it.'"

Talbert said he told the state officials that was "a far cry" from what the town had been told earlier.

Committee members were concerned that even if the trees were pushed down that there was not enough time to have the debris cleaned up prior to the inspection scheduled for October.

That prompted them to suggest that additional contractors be brought in if necessary.

Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. said the town was responsible for the delay in clearing the land.

Former committee chairman Ruff Huggins negotiated the original contract with Jones, but the town went back and added another area, McDonald said.

The project had been further delayed because the town lacked the money at the time to pay for the work, he said.