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Lanett approves resolution for airport funds

LANETT — The Lanett City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution to seek state and federal matching funds needed for the continuation of the current airport improvement project. This is something the city usually does at this time of year to be eligible for the upcoming funding cycle. The work that’s now under way to lengthen the runway from 3,165 feet to 5,400 feet is being funded by an $8.1 million federal FAA grant that was approved following a similar request several years ago.

There’s no guarantee any local project will be approved, but it definitely will not be unless the local government submits the kind of application that was approved Monday.

The action was taken in the regular council meeting following a 5 p.m. work session in which Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood civil engineer Ryan Pearce reviewed future steps that can be taken to make the Lanett airport the kind of modern aviation facility that can help attract industry and promote future community growth.

Pearce said a main feature that’s now needed is an apron to be built between the main runway and a taxiway that’s presently under construction.

“This is necessary and pertinent since there is insufficient space for the safe and efficient mix of smaller and larger aircraft the runway extension will enable,” he said.

The apron would be built in a manner to allow aircraft to safely operate and for passengers to safely reach the new terminal. There would also be park/tie-down spaces for planes and to allow for jet blast/prop wash capabilities, according to FAA recommendations and standards.

The city stands to benefit from revenue derived by fuel sales and the rental of hangar and tie-down space.

“The city has been extremely successful in getting funding for this project,” Pearce said. “Lanett is well-known around the state for this success and what’s been going on at the airport. Hats off to city officials for the work that’s been done. We need to continue this with the construction of this apron.”

Doing this would involve paving an area that’s already been graded in front of the terminal.

“We feel confident we can get funding next year for Phase I of this project,” Pearce said. “Phase II would come after that.”

An environmental impact study is presently under way to determine if there could be any negative impacts from building a new road from Phillips Road to the terminal. The road would be approximately one mile in length and would provide a faster way to get to the airport from Exit 77 on I-85.

At least 15 different parties have expressed interest in having hangar space at the expanded airport.

Pearce said there’s a great opportunity for Lanett to have a first-class regional airport. It’s something that won’t be there indefinitely, though.

“There’s a window of opportunity for them to come here, but they could go somewhere else if we don’t act fast. Other airports around us are expanding, too,” he said.

Pearce said some future considerations need to be acted on. This includes statements of principles on how the airport will be operated and how the airport will develop sales and regulations.

“We need to finalize how we make decisions moving forward,” he said. “Our focus for the past 10 years is having a longer runway. We now need to look at developing an airport.”

Pearce  said there are some significant advantages to having a regional airport where aircraft is based.

Business class jets, for example, can cost between $2 million and $5 million. Having them land here frequently will open up the opportunity to fuel them. The capability to do that must be acquired either by the city doing it or having a private provider doing it on a contract basis.

Pearce said that ground leases can be done in 20 to 30-year increments, and the city could own it after that.

“I really want to make this project a success,” Pearce said.

Valerie Gray told council members that the Lanett airport project was one of the top three major projects she has worked on in the 23 years she has been with the Chambers County Development Authority (CCDA). The other two involve getting Norbord (West Frazier) to locate in the local area and getting John Soules Foods to come to Valley.

The need to expand airport capabilities was made clear in recruiting John Soules Foods. Company executives, Gray said, wanted an airport that could land private jets not far from their production plant.

“They wanted a place closer than the airport in Auburn,” she said.