RALEIGH — Ten months after effectively saying “no thank you” to one state grant, Surry County has received a better deal from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
This week, the DOT announced 10 funding deal for airports across the state totaling $12.2 million.
In this area, the Ashe County Airport will receive $350,000 to purchase land and existing hangars. The Mount Airy-Surry County Airport in the Holly Springs community south of Mount Airy will receive $480,000 for design and preliminary engineering on a new apron and new hangars.
The largest project on the list is Plymouth Municipal Airport (about halfway between Rocky Mount and the Outer Banks): $3.8 million for construction of a parallel taxiway and related permitting.
“From commercial airports that are among the world’s busiest to rural airports that support farms and manufacturers, each is a vital part of a connected transportation infrastructure,” stated the DOT in a news release.
“Grants such as these make sure we maintain that link between our state and national and global markets,” said N.C. DOT Director of Aviation Bobby Walston. “They keep our 72 public airports safe and able to better serve the pilots, businesses and passengers that rely on them.”
Airports and aviation-related industries contribute $31 billion to North Carolina’s economy each year, per a 2016 report. There are 123,400 airport-related jobs in the state. The Division of Aviation is responsible for state airport and aviation system planning and development, and provides funding to communities for constructing and improving airports throughout the state.
Back on June 19, a letter of support for a future airport project failed to gain any traction among the members of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.
“Where does this project end?” asked then Commissioner Buck Golding. “When do we cut the ribbon?”
The general aviation area expansion project was eyed for funding from the N.C. Department of Transportation in 2023. The projec would be a nearly $6 million endeavor.
The letter from the DOT said the grant would provide 90 percent of the funding — around $5.4 million. However, that left the county to come up with other 10 percent, or $597,000.
Back in the fall, the airport was closed for more than a month for a runway extension project (from 4,300 feet to 5,500 feet).
Based on previous reports, the cost of the entire runway extension project is about $19 million, of which a big portion came via state and federal funding sources. Still, that left a hefty amount for the Surry County and Mount Airy to take on.
Before that project could even be completed, the county received a letter for the new grant with 10-percent matching funds.
“I think it’s time to tap the brakes,” Commissioner Van Tucker said last June.
The board took no action on the request for the letter of support on the $6 million project.
This week’s news, however, is that the $480,000 is free and clear with no match.
Even more importantly, Commissioner Eddie Harris said the word he has received is that more money is coming without a match.
“This is the one that allows us to expand aprons, and if I am correct, also allows us to use this money to build and fund hangers at 100 percent which has never been done before and is quite unusual in the airport-grant-funding scope,” Harris said when first contacted about the grant announcement.
“We have a tremendous waiting list for hangers, and the revenue for hangers — and tax base for airplanes that brings in — is very important to the airport,” said Harris. “For instance, some locally owned aircraft that may be (in) hangers in Forsyth County would come back to Surry.”
After double-checking with other officials, Harris confirmed that the DOT is looking to fund the $6 million expansion without a match.
“This is a very flexible grant in the scope of the airport’s future,” said Harris. “Quite nice for the taxpayers.
“Initially this was supposed to be for construction in 2023, and we ask the Division of Aviation N.C. to accelerate,” he said. “Looks like they have agreed, and hopefully (it) will go to construction in 2019 after we do our design on the scope of the project.”
Jeff Linville may be reached at 336-415-4692.