Airport Authority optimistic new airport will move forward

SHEILA MATHEWS :::

Only one month after tabling efforts to move forward with plans for a new airport, the Griffin-Spalding Airport Authority (AA) says a new development may bring the project closer to reality.

Originally and throughout long-term discussions, officials of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Georgia Department of Transportation (GDoT) have said the AA would be required to obtain the funding necessary for the initial land purchase for the new airport. Those same officials are now indicating they may be willing to discuss another option.

AA Chairman and Griffin Commissioner Dick Morrow sought to secure a loan for $12 million for the land purchase, with $6 to be reimbursed upon completion of the new airport.

The total cost for the project, which would be split evenly among the city and county, was estimated at $6 million.

Morrow said he tabled efforts to move forward with the new airport when he was unable to obtain the loan.

“They were adamant that we had to bring the $12 million to the table,” Morrow said. “It’s just not doable in this economy. Out of frustration, I finally said we need to table it. They’ve said all along that it’s their policy. I’ve told them policies can be changed, but they said they wouldn’t do it.”

However, those same officials are now singing a different tune.

Airport Director Robert Mohl announced that a recent conversation with GDoT’s Carol Comer resulted in a light at the end of the tunnel for those who support the new airport.

“I said the $12 million nut to crack is just not attainable in any way we can see,” Mohl recounted, adding that he told her the land purchase requirement is unattainable.

Following this conversation, Comer spoke with “FAA higher-ups,” and Mohl was informed that the FAA and GDoT would be willing to return to the table for further discussions.

Mohl said in lieu of the full land purchase, the AA would be required to come up with only the $6 million that represents the total local contribution. Those funds would be used for the initial land purchase, with the remaining land to be purchased by the FAA.

For this deal to be considered, Mohl said the AA would be subject to five conditions.

First, the land purchase phasing plan will need to be completed. Mohl said that that process is “basically” done. Secondly, a review of the site selection will need to be performed. Two letters will also be required – one guaranteeing that should the new airport not be constructed, the AA will reimburse the FAA for any funds expended for the land purchase and a second, which Morrow described as a standard agreement stating the proceeds of any future sale of the existing airport will be utilized for new airport operations. The fifth condition will require an updated survey on the existing airport and the sites officials seek to have designated as nonessential for airport purposes.

Mohl said he views this development with cautious optimism, and is working to meet the conditions laid out. He anticipates being prepared for this meeting by the end of November.

“This is the first time I’ve sat down with these individuals, looked them in the eyes and got the impression they’re willing to come to the table,” Mohl said.

Morrow said he, too, is hopeful the pending meeting with FAA and GDoT officials will result in an agreement that will allow the new airport to come to fruition.

“The fact that they’ve changed their minds and are considering an alternative surprised me, but I’m pleased that they’ve said they’re considering changing their minds,” Morrow said. “What they’ve said is they’ll consider the alternative, which is a huge change on their part.”

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