Holdout property owner puts Hawkins County airport project in jeopardy

Jeff Bobo • Jun 10, 2013 at 9:33 PM

ROGERSVILLE — One holdout property owner who apparently doesn’t want to sell approximately one acre at the east end of the Hawkins County Airport runway could put a $900,000 runway improvement project in jeopardy.

The Hawkins County Commission’s Airport Committee heard a report Monday that Mark Skelton, who owns about an acre at the east end of the runway, told a property assessor he’s not interested in selling the property.

Hawkins County is acquiring acreage around the airport in Surgoinsville, including at both ends of the runway, for the creation of a federally mandated runway protection zone.

The runway protection zones are part of an overall runway improvement program required by the Federal Aviation Administration and paid for with a $900,000 federal grant awarded to Hawkins County last year.

Airport manager Mark Finley explained to the committee Monday that the runway protection zone is simple a graded area of dirt extended from the end of the runway. It gives a landing airplane that overshoots the runway a place to stop.

These extension will be installed on both ends of the runway, 300 feet long and 150 feet wide.

The grant will also address some drainage issues at the airport, repaving the runway, and eliminating an elevation in the middle of the runway so that there is no sight obstruction from one end of the runway to another.

Chuck Hoskins, who is an operations specialist with the state Aeronautics Division didn’t attend Monday’s meeting.

Hoskins did, however, did send an email to the county mayor’s office Monday stating that failure to acquire the Skelton property would mean the airport won’t meet current FAA runway design standards.

Hoskins stated in the email that failing to meet the standards will affect grants.

“You need to meet the FAA’s safety standards,” Hoskins stated. “Not doing so is a violation of your grant assurances. You will be expected to comply with your existing grant obligations (meet standards), and if you fail to do so, it will definitely have an adverse affect on any grants you need for the facility.”

Skelton, who is an attorney, allowed his property to be surveyed by the county, but the committee was told Monday that when an appraiser came to look at the property, Skelton told the appraiser he wasn’t going to sell.

Committee members said they want to hear that from Skelton himself.

The committee voted Monday to direct committee member Linda Kimbro, who represents Surgoinsville, to contact Skelton and ask him to agree to meet with the committee at a date and time that would be convenient for him.

Hoskins stated in his email that if Skelton won’t sell, the county has two options, and neither one is desirable.

One option would be to condemn the property and take it through court proceedings. Based on its location at the end of the runway, Skelton is prevented by FAA rules from developing the property or adding any structures.

But that option would also add expenses for legal fees, and it wasn’t clear Monday if the grant funds could be used for that purpose.

The second option was to create the runway protection zone by shortening the runway, which is also known as “displacing the thresholds.”

Finley explained that doesn’t mean tearing up asphalt. It simply means that the usable portion of the runway for landing purposes would be about 200 feet shorter — from 3,500 to 3,300 feet — because that’s how much space would be needed at present to create the 300-foot runway protection zone.

Hoksins stated in his email that displacing the thresholds would cost as much as correcting the problem with extensions.

“Considering your current runway length, shortening is not the best course of action,” Hoskins stated. “You need more length, not less.”

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