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FAA wants lighting project resolved

CHESAPEAKE — Getting the federal dollars to pay for acreage Lawrence County acquired in a recent eminent domain lawsuit has been stalled as the Federal Aviation Administration puts conditions on their helping out.

Now the Lawrence County Commissioners are going back to the FAA to get the agency to reconsider.

At the end of October the county reached an agreement with the Wilson family to buy acreage the family owned at the Lawrence County Airport. The land was sought to extend the runways and cut down trees deemed a safety hazard at the Chesapeake site.

The commissioners had asked the FAA to help out with the price tag, which has yet to be publicly disclosed.

“In order to get the money for the settlement we have to close out the lighting project or go ahead with it,” Commission President Les Boggs said at Tuesday’s work session. “Neither really is a great option.”

To go ahead with adding new lighting down the runway and taxiing area would cost the county approximately $27,000 or its 10 percent match for the project that would get the remainder of its financing from the FAA.

So far, only design work has been done on the lighting with the FAA giving the county $23,000 for that or 90 percent of the engineering cost. The county has already paid $2,300 for its share of the design work.

However, with the acquisition of the new acreage, the location of the runway will change from where it is now under the current lighting design. If the county doesn’t go ahead with the lighting project, it will have to pay back the federal portion — or $23,000 — to the FAA.

“The lights will be positioned incorrectly for the new runway,” Bill Nenni, chair of the county airport advisory board, told the commission. “Our belief was the lighting project was settled in the November 2013 teleconference call.”

In a letter to Marlon Pena, program manager for the FAA, the commission is asking the FAA to reconsider its decision.

“The priorities and runway footprint are subject to significant changes pending the acquisition of the property in the negotiated settlement,” the letter states. “The runway edge lighting will not be correctly spaced due to the new position and length of the runway. … The change in prevailing wage and the costs of copper wire are likely to drive the costs of the project much closer to $300,000. The local match for the project will deplete all of the funds in the airport account. This leaves us with no monies to accomplish the projects that need to be addressed to our airport.

“Clearing the safety area and resurfacing the runway are far more pressing issues than lighting. We intend to revise the lighting layout and press forward with the construction as soon as these concerns are met.”

Commission Bill Pratt asked Nenni the status of the lease payments for hangar and tie-down rentals.

“We are working on that,” Nenni said. “I don’t know the disposition of that. We are developing a list.”

As of Tuesday morning there was $7,324 in the airport account, according to the county auditor’s office. However, $19,704 the county received from the FAA a few years ago has been set aside in a capital improvement fund so it would be spent on FAA projects, not the day-to-day operation of the airport.

“The pilots association is aware they have to make more of a contribution,” Nenni said. “We haven’t figure out a way to implement that.”