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Wednesday, 07 November 2007 00:00

Jackson Airport study OK’d

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By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer

Jackson County commissioners have decided to invest money in the county’s airport.

Commissioners voted 4-1 on Monday (Nov. 5) to award $65,000 to the airport authority to conduct a feasibility study of the mountaintop airport. Commissioners Tom Massie, Mark Jones, William Shelton, and Brain McMahan voted in favor of the award. Commissioner Joe Cowan opposed the vote.

The commissioners’ award will allow airport officials to collect a $450,000 grant from the North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.

“The study will determine what it’s going to take to make it (the airport) safe for our residents,” Commissioner Mark Jones said.

The DOT money will allow airport officials to complete renovations to the facility such as adding on a new hanger.

The county’s funding will be split to ways: $45,000 will be spent on a study to see if the airport property can be stabilized. The remaining money will be used for legal fees.

A series of landslides occurred in September 2005 and damaged several residential properties near the airport. County commissioners were requested by DOT to conduct a feasibility study to examine the airport’s condition. The commissioners never completed a study.

Since then airport officials sought assistance from DOT to help renovate the airport. In order to receive the grant money, the county was required to put up a 10 percent match.

Now, since board members awarded the money, the commissioners are hopeful the study will lead to a solution to the stability issues.

“”We’ve been involved in legal issues over landslides, and our contingency was that this is not the county’s problem,” Massie said. “But it’s been a problem and will continue to be problem until we and the airport solve it.”

“This appropriation of money will address these issues so that we can avoid this problem in the future,” he said.

Chairman McMahan agreed. “I feel very confident and comfortable with the airport authority, and I stand behind their efforts,” he said.

But investing additional money into the airport was the deciding factor in Cowan’s decision to vote no.

“I do think it (the airport) needs to be studied, but I can not in good conscience vote yes for something that serves an extremely small number of people,” he said.

Commissioners could not say when the study will begin.

The study could reveal that the airport is at an inappropriate location. County officials would then have to determine the facility’s fate.

“We will cross that bridge when we come to it,” Shelton said.

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