A 600-foot extension of Macon County’s airport runway is scheduled for completion by mid-May and plans for a ribbon-cutting ceremony are in the works, Miles Gregory, chairman of the airport authority, told local leaders last week.
The $4.5 million project will allow larger corporate jets to land in Macon County. When finished, the runway will be 5,000-feet long, and include a 300-foot grass safety area. About $1 million was spent meeting archaeological requirements for using the site, Gregory said.
Two years ago, the runway extension provoked bitter opposition, with standing-room-only crowds attending meetings and an environmental group threatening to sue and stop the project. An archaeological assessment in 2000 had revealed about 400 Indian burials.
Macon County reached agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, however, and the project was able to move forward.
The extension was opposed by nearby residents who fear the additional traffic at the airport will threaten the rural valley, but commissioners supported the project for its economic development potential.
“Planes that could not land here and be covered on their insurance now will be covered,” said Brian McClellan, chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners.
New airport hangars are also in the works, Gregory said. Additionally, there are plans to try to run a 12-inch line and hook into the town’s water.
“We have a well right now,” Gregory said. “If we had a fire out here, we’d be in trouble.”
Bringing Franklin town water into Iotla Valley where the airport is located also would benefit the future elementary school near there. Insurance coverage for both the school and the airport would cost less as a result, Gregory said.