Polk County Airport

An extension of Corneilius Moore Field is moving ahead in the first phase, which will allow larger planes to land and takeoff. (Kevin Myrick/SJ)

The opening step in the process of extending the runway at Cornelius Moore Field is now underway following approval of an agreement between new airport consultants and the county, along with the first order of business for the company.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve Holt Consulting Company’s master agreement with the county during a special called session of the board before month’s end.

The vote — along with approval of the first task order calling for surveying of the ends of the runway with a not to exceed cost of $68,500 — allows for the extension project to move forward in an effort being pushed by the state Department of Transportation.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced that Polk County was one of 11 airport improvement projects back in January.

Commissioner Chuck Thaxton was quick to voice his concern about approval of spending for the surveying work should money in the state budget not be forthcoming as promised. If the funds were already included into the state’s FY 2019 budget and didn’t require amendment for inclusion, or the check already in hand to move forward, he said he would feel better about the project.

“It just concerns me, because we want the people of Polk County to feel like they’re getting their money’s worth,” Thaxton said.

Denton pointed out prior to the vote that though the project was estimated to cost upward of $68,500 for surveying of the runway, but it wasn’t likely to cost the full amount. One reason why is his hopes that because the state has cut down the timeline on the project that they’ll cut down on the scope of the work needed for design purposes.

Especially since Denton pointed out a project that usually takes a year to get underway is being shortened to six months, with the county required to have a contractor who can get to work in place by no later than June 15.

Denton said that though the cost was thus far a moving target, he speculated the overall likely amount that it would take to extend the airport from the current 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet would be around $4.5 million. The county would be expected to match that cost upward of $1.25 million.

That would include the needed surveying work and later design work that will need to be completed by Holt Consulting Company before the county will be able to move forward on the runway extension. Denton said that all the work done by the county to prepare will go toward their required match of state funds for the airport extension.

An additional task order will have to come before the board before Holt Consulting will be able to complete drawings and designs, Denton said. The county will also only pay for the work they ask to be completed, not requiring any annual payments to Holt Consulting Company.

“They’re only going to do the work that we approve and pay for them to do,” Denton said.

He added the hopes were the county would know for sure if the state’s budget included the funds promised for the runway extension by the end of March, when the legislative session closes and a budget has to be on Deal’s desk for signature before the fiscal year’s end.

Thaxton said before he gave his vote approving the requests in the special session that he wanted a in-depth discussion of where funds were going to come from to cover the county’s match for the project. Commission chair Jennifer Hulsey said that it would be taken up during the county’s upcoming work session on March 5.

“We need to let the public have this discussion as well,” Thaxton said.

Denton did point out the runway extension could be completed using some leftover funds set aside in the 2014 Special Purpose, Local Option Sales Tax fund meant for economic development and infrastructure.

Now that the county’s wish has come true for the extension, Denton said he’s finding out just how fast the state is moving to get the project completed. He found out in mid-February of the required June 15 deadline for having a contractor in place to take on the state funds.

“It was fortunate that we were selected, and one of the reasons I think we were was that we’ve been pushing this for a long time, and had what was essentially a shovel-ready project in place,” Denton said.

It has been a project long in the making, one that Denton said was proposed since long before his arrival to the county in the late 2000s.

Commissioner Scotty Tillery and Denton both argued the extension of the runway would provide a lot of benefits, from allowing for Learjet-sized passenger jets to land locally for business use, along with turbo-prop aircraft as well.

It also moves the airport into a new tier-status for the state, making it not quite a regional airport but one that is capable of handling additional traffic.

Tillery, who is also an airport committee member and former chair, hopes the longer runway will also attract mechanics and new aircraft owners to take up tie-down or hangar rental spaces for storage of their planes, meaning increased revenue generated through fees from the airport along with sales of aviation and jet fuel.

The extension is the latest project at the airport undertaken through the state’s DOT-Aviation division. In past years, funds have been set aside in the state budget to increase the glide path around Cornelius Moore Field due to updates to FAA regulations, requiring land purchases and cutting of trees around the facility to guarantee safe air approaches.

A fencing project, cleaning of hangars and repair work, and the hire of county airport managers have also been part of a program of updates as well.

Commissioners Marshelle Thaxton and Hal Floyd weren’t able to attend for personal reasons the special called session and thus didn’t participate in the vote.

State Rep. Trey Kelley said that money is being set aside in the state budget for Gov. Deal’s proposed spending on airport projects, but that will be finalized later this month before the state legislative session concludes.