TCRA gets $5M in FAA grants for two projects

Hank Hayes • Sep 11, 2008 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A security-related measure was part of two Tri-Cities Regional Airport capital improvements approved by airport commissioners Thursday on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

Federal funds showed up to pay for the bulk of both projects.

“It’s been a very interesting (federal) grant year,” TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson told commissioners during a called meeting to OK more than $5 million in federal funds to upgrade the airfield’s security fence and reconstruct part of the terminal area’s ramp.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorizing legislation expired at the end of the 2007 fiscal year, and Congress has approved a series of continuing resolutions providing temporary funds for the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program.

TCRA competes for the program’s discretionary dollars and got the word last week that the money was coming.

“Next year the grant process will be just as crazy for us,” said Wilson, who noted TCRA hopes to end the year getting about $7 million in FAA funds.

The upcoming airfield fence improvements, said Wilson, are both for security and safety.

“It is a deterrent for people to find their way onto the airfield, either as a security threat or for vandalism. ... It also keeps animals out of the operations area,” he explained.

The ramp reconstruction is expected to include removing the old terminal concourse area.

TCRA’s biggest change in its operation since Sept. 11 is having the federal government’s Transportation Security Administration (TSA) run its security checkpoint, Wilson noted.

“It’s the manning of the checkpoint and the increased level of professionalism that TSA brings to the (passenger) screening process,” said Wilson.

In other action, airport commissioners were advised that Sullivan County is proceeding with an eminent domain action to help TCRA out of an old, complicated land dispute with developers of the high-end Grande Harbor residential community adjacent to its secondary runway.

Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey said county commissioners want documented assurances from other airport owners that Sullivan County won’t be alone in covering expenses from the legal action. Commissioners, he said, are expected to consider the eminent domain action on Monday.

At issue are six Grande Harbor lots within TCRA’s federally mandated Runway Protection Zone (RPZ), an area where planes, buildings and people are not supposed to be at risk. TCRA has given the Grande Harbor developers a $120,000 down payment for the land, Wilson advised.

The airport wants to build a perimeter airfield road around the 4,447-foot runway and extend its landing area by 500 feet within the RPZ.

The two improvements, according to airport officials, could spur south side hangar development and make the secondary runway usable for corporate jets.

But the property acquisition has dragged on for months because the lots have residential restrictions placed on them by the developers.

TCRA needs to finance the purchase with federal dollars and with the FAA’s approval.

For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.

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