The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Division of Aviation recently approved of a $2.09 million grant award for Macon County’s Airport, with the federal monies going towards the reconstruction and repaving of the airport’s parking apron. According to Milles Gregory, chairperson of Macon County’s airport authority, the airport’s current parking apron “is in shambles” and the project is “long overdue.”
“We are really glad to receive the news and I think this project will do a lot of good in making our airport much better in the future,” said Gregory. “We are thankful for the funds because we needed them badly. So we are very satisfied with the NCDOT in providing us with an opportunity to improve our airport. It’s really good news for us because it’s been many years since any work has been done to our parking apron,” he said.
Macon County Economic Development Director and airport authority member, Tommy Jenkins, is also excited about the state’s recent approval of the authority’s grant application. “I think it will just add on to what I think is one of the most premier aviation facilities in the western half of the state,” said Jenkins. “With the recent runway extension we can now bring in business class jets, and with this project in the works I think it enables us to utilize another toolkit in our economic development handbook,” he said in regards to the county’s airport infrastructure assets.
Macon County’s airport authority submitted their grant application to the NCDOT last October. Subsequently, the state officially approved of the grant on Dec. 30, 2011. “We analyzed and inspected their plan and they did in fact need some work completed there,” said NCDOT Aviation Director Richard Walls. Walls’ team said that they inspect state airports every three years, and his team affirmed that the airport’s parking apron is in fact “near the end of it’s life cycle.” The news of the grant award comes shortly after the airport’s runway extension project, which increased the runway by 600 feet to 5,000 ft., was finally completed last May.
In order to be eligible for this particular grant, the airport authority had to formulate and approve a ten-year Transportation Improvement Project Plan (TIP), which they did so last year. All 72 public airports throughout the state had to create and adopt a TIP plan if they wanted to pursue grant monies from the NCDOT Division of Aviation. Fortunately, airport authority members in Macon County were able to develop and pass a plan that the NCDOT Aviation Division accepted.
The $2.09 million grant funds come from the State Aid to Airports Program managed by the Division of Aviation within the NCDOT. The Division will continue to award multiple sub grants through the program to general aviation airports across the state for various capital improvement projects. Macon County allocated $40,000 to the airport in their general fund budget for fiscal year 2011/2012, but for capital improvement grant projects, the county will have to put up 10 percent of the $2.09 million project costs. The $40,000 allocated to Macon County’s airport in the general fund budget finances airport maintenance costs exclusively, according to Gregory. “It’s not much but we have to make do with what we can get, and times are tough,” said Gregory.
The two million plus amount is a preliminary estimate, and the bidding for the project may come in well below the initial projection, stated Gregory. However, all of the funds must be used to repave the airport’s parking apron. If the $2.09 million estimate is accurate, the county will have to finance about $209,000 for the project. The funds have to be approved by the Board of Commissioners since the project was not listed in the 2011/12 fiscal year budget ordinance. “I think our board will take up the issue sometime in March or April,” said Macon County Manager Jack Horton.
W.K. Dickson & Company, Inc., a company based in Charlotte, North Carolina will assist the airport authority with the bidding and planning process for the project. The airport authority members continues to utilize W.K. Dickson to outsource bidding contracts and to help airport officials adequately plan for future projects. The consulting firm works in three states and they specialize in community infrastructure projects, providing towns and cities throughout the Southeast with professional engineering and design services. The consulting company helped Macon County develop and implement the airport’s runway extension project. Richard Walls, Director of NCDOT’s Aviation department, attested that the firm is one of the best consulting firms they have worked with.
Since Governor Beverly Perdue took office in 2009, the NCDOT Division of Aviation has awarded more than $125 million in funding to state airports, which enable airports across the state to implement improvements that enhance economic development efforts across the state, according to a NCDOT press release about the grant.
Macon County’s Airport has an approximate $7.9 million a year total annual impact on North Carolina’s economy and supports more than 122 jobs, according to figures provided by a 2006 statewide economic impact study. If the economic study is sound, county leaders are justified in being excited about receiving the grant.“The new apron, along with the recently completed runway extension, will go a long way in serving the future needs of the airport,” continued NCDOT Aviation Director Richard Walls on their recent grant award to Franklin’s airport.
The county’s airport authority is made up of five members who serve six year terms, and they may be reappointed upon the discretion of the Board of Commissioners. County EDC Director Tommy Jenkins, Harold Corbin, Pete Haithcock, Milles Gregory, and Gary Schmitt currently make up the five member authority, an entity that operates independently from the Macon County Board of Commissioners.