12/03/12 — Town to seek airport funding

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Town to seek airport funding

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 3, 2012 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- According to a state study, Yeager Field, the town's airport, has an $8 million economic impact annually on the town and southern Wayne County -- news that town officials want to leverage in hope of securing more local funding.

The airport, named after aviation pioneer Chuck Yeager, is jointly owned and funded by Mount Olive and Wayne County.

The airport runway has been extended to 5,000 feet to handle corporate jets, and now the town wants to have the older section of the runway resurfaced.

A $1.3 million grant from the state Department of Transportation's Aviation Division would be used for that project. The sticking point for the town is the 10 percent local match of approximately $130,000.

Town officials had been hopeful that state-administered FAA Vision 100 funds could be used for that match. However, Kathy Vollert of the Division of Aviation, last week told the town's airport committee that the FAA said that was not a recommended use of the money.

The airport committee is recommending that the town proceed with the survey and subsurface studies at the airport needed to begin the project design, which could cost approximately $70,000. The town's match would be about $7,000.

The issue is going to become the local match for the $1.3 million, Ms. Vollert said.

"I am not sure if your financial outlook has improved any since we last discussed this," she said.

"I think it has," Town Manager Charles Brown said. "We had asked the county to up its contribution to the airport operating budget, which they did. Then they rescinded it. They said, 'Oops, we made a mistake.' I am thinking what maybe the best approach is for me to sit down with them. That $8 million economic impact is not limited to Mount Olive. It is southern Wayne County, and a big chunk of southern Wayne County.

"The industrial park is within walking distance of this airport. I don't know how many industrial parks you have that have 5,000-foot runways within walking distance of that facility. So it seems to me that the county and Development Alliance would have at least some interest in participating in this match. We are talking about roughly $100,000 (match). I don't think it would be unreasonable to ask them to participate."

Mount Olive did increase its contribution to the airport budget, he said.

"I don't know that we will get them (county commissioners) in agreement on it, but it just seems to me if you are making that kind of economic impact on southern Wayne County that they might," Brown said. "But we have a new group of folks up there, and I don't know how receptive they will be. But I still think I will approach it anyway."

State officials say that the $8 million impact on the town and southern part of the county is a "conservative calculation," consultant Jay Talbert of Talbert and Bright told the committee.

"That is pretty impressive given the amount of based aircraft and traffic that you have," he said. "I would encourage any of you who do the Rotary presentations, stuff like that, it is pretty easy to make a little PowerPoint presentation to show local people that the airport is not just where rich guys go fly on the weekend. It is a real economic benefit to the entire area."

Talbert said he had some ideas as to how to cushion the financial blow, and that he would like to talk with Brown about them at a later time.