Nearly six years ago, the Ashe County Airport and state representatives began an initiative to further expand the airport’s facilities in an attempt to enable the construction of additional hangers along with an expanded runway for jets.
The expansion of a runway would increase the current length of the runway from 4,300 feet to 5,000 feet and would enable jet engine planes to utilize the facilities and will assist in the economic development of the county by attracting larger corporations who may opt to use the airport, county officials say.
After years of planning and working with the North Carolina General Assembly for funding, ACA is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel. In early July, the general assembly gave the green light to a state budget which included a $2.5 million package for the sole usage of the ACA.
Overall, a rough estimate by County Manager Dan McMillan revealed that the overall project would cost roughly $ 9 million. In the course of nearly six years, the airport was able to obtain $1.5 million through grants for grading and road straightening projects that would enable the airport to construct additional hangers.
In the past, construction workers and aviation engineers worked on the project little by little as the funds were received but this was the first year that ACA received a significant amount of funds.
“This was the first time the General Assembly has allocated money for airport expansion. The only other airport in the state that will also receive money is the facility in Mount Airy,” McMillan said.
“Before we see any of the funds, it has to go through various channels.” McMillan said. “After the funds are released from Washington, D.C., it will filter down through the proper authorities in Atlanta and through the Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division in Raleigh before it finally reaches Ashe County.”
McMillan went onto explain how it may be the first of 2009 before the ACA receives the funds.
McMillan said he appreciates those who have made the funds allocation possible.
“There is no way this would have been possible without the lobbying work of Sen. Steve Goss and Rep. Cullie Tarleton.” McMillan said. “It is comforting to know that we have individuals working diligently in Raleigh to better our lives and economy in the mountains.”
Tarleton elaborated on the difficult task of receiving state funds for airport expansion.
“The county has been trying for years to get this money, and if the airport is going to reach its full potential for the economic development of Ashe County, expansion is a must.” Tarleton said.
Although Tarleton and members from the Ashe County administration are pleased with the funds, they are still looking for additional help.
“We are hopeful that the federal government will step in and allocate some funds for further expansion.” Tarleton said. “Also, we are working on some steps to appropriate funds through grants but that is still in the early stages of development.”
County Economic Development Director Pat Mitchell explained how airport expansion could greatly impact Ashe County’s economy.
“I think the airport expansion could be an important piece of economic development infrastructure.” Mitchell said. “Having the expansion will enable next-sized jets to land at ACA and that should appeal to larger businesses.”