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Wednesday, 25 March 2009 20:26

Macon runway likely to clear hurdle of cash shortfall

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It appears an $853,000 shortfall facing the Macon County airport runway extension may be covered with additional state and federal funds.

The shortfall arose in part after a $550,000 federal grant previously earmarked for the project was pulled after the airport authority failed to use it within a four-year timeframe, said Rick Barkes with the state Department of Transportation Aviation Division. While federal money, it is administered through the state and had been diverted to another project.

The Airport Authority hoped the money would be restored, and now seems to have confirmation that will be the case. Barkes said the Macon County airport will be reimbursed the $550,000 because the delay in using the money was beyond the Airport Authority’s control. The delay stems from a significant archaeological site that lies in the path of the runway extension. The Airport Authority was trying to negotiate an agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and others over the archaeological excavation to save the artifacts from being destroyed.

Barkes said if the Airport Authority had just been sitting on the funds and doing nothing with them, it probably would not get reimbursed.

Even if the Airport Authority is reimbursed the $550,000 it will still be about $350,000 short, according to Airport Authority officials.

Barkes said the N.C. DOT Division of Aviation will likely provide the remaining funds necessary, whether they are federal or state dollars, to cover any remaining shortfall.

Barkes said the project has been in talks for about eight years and needs to be completed. There is a “very slim chance” the airport won’t get the funds it needs to cover the shortfall, said Barkes.

The remaining shortfall could possibly be covered with state Vision 100 money.

 

Priorities questioned

The total runway project, including archaeology and engineering, is expected to cost $3.5 million. Of that, almost $2 million is in state dollars, said Barkes.

Norma Ivey of Franklin, an opponent of the runway extension, questioned the budget priorities of the state to fund something like the runway extension while cutting education.

“I hate to see the money go to the airport instead of other things I see as more important. There are better investments for public money right now than a runway at the airport,” Ivey said. “Whether it is elementary school or community colleges, to not put the money in education is very short sighted.”

Same goes for county coffers. The county is contributing at least $187,000 in matching funds to make the runway extension possible, but has budget problems of its own.

“I do not see the airport as being a positive move for the county,” Ivey said.

The airport has been controversial because some, including the Eastern Band, believe there isn’t enough archaeological excavation taking place at the site. There are also Indian burials at the site, according to an archaeologist who did a survey of the property in 2000.

The Airport Authority has agreed to excavate 25 percent of the artifacts, but the Eastern Band wants all of the artifacts removed before they are erased by construction.

The burials are staying in place at the request of the Eastern Band.

— Becky Johnson contributed to this story.

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