Athens Review, Athens, Texas

April 18, 2013

Quite a stretch

Expansion of runway would cost $4.8 million

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — An aviation planner for the Texas Department of Transportation presented his findings Thursday before a joint meeting of the Athens City Council and the Henderson County Commissi-oners Court.

The meeting concerned the possibility of expanding a runway at the Athens Municipal Airport. The city is considering the expansion to allow turbojets and other large aircraft to take off and land at the facility.

Matthew Felton told the audience at the Courthouse Annex that a rough estimate cost of lengthening the runway from its current 3,988 feet to 5,000 feet would be about $4.8 million. That includes $1,170,000 for rehabilitation of the current airport and $3,611,000 for the extension. Any available grant would require at least a 10-percent local match. That would cost Athens about $480,000.

“Ultimately what I looked at and drew up was a plan that would extend the runway to the north by 200 feet and to the south by 812 to give that nice round number of 5,000 feet.” Felton said.

Expansion opportunities for the airport were limited by roads on each end of the airport. Because of the cost of moving the roads, that option was taken off the table, Felton said. Environmental issues also have to be considered before undertaking an expansion project, Felton said.

“Our environmental expert at TxDOT looked at it and key things that were noted were biotic communities, flood planes, hazardous materials and wetlands that would be impacted,” Felton said.

The Environmental Protect-ion Agency will probably hire a consultant to study the project, Felton said.

Another requirement before the expansion can take place is for the city to justify its need for the additional length. Felton said that requires a survey of current and potential  aircraft operators concerning how they would benefit from the extension.

Felton said obstructions there include numerous trees  on the south side of the airport that would have to be removed for the airport to get maximum use of the runway. The city would need to purchase the property or obtain easements from the property owners to remove the trees.

“If that was removed, the pilot coming in would technically still not have use of the full 5,000 feet to land,” Felton said. “The roads, which can not be moved, would limit that threshold.”

Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said the city has a lot to consider before it decides on whether to continue to pursue the runway extension.

“The big issue is the purchase of land and how much more that will add to that dollar amount,” Vaught said. “I assure you, it would have to be the 90-10 split if we are going to do it. Everything is extremely tight for the city. We are going to look at this and be getting back to TxDOT.”