County to purchase land for airport expansion

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At their meeting this morning, the Washington County commissioners are expected to approve a major land acquisition in South Franklin Township as part of eventual expansion of the county airport runway and safety zone.


The county is purchasing the surface rights to two parcels between Mounts and Moore roads from the Kenneth Varner Sr. estate for $588,000, in accordance with the airport’s master plan. The state Bureau of Aviation agreed that federal will fund 95 percent of the purchase price, with county money making up the difference.


William McGowen, executive director of the Washington County Redevelopment Authority, which oversees and operates the airport on the county’s behalf, said of runway expansion, “It’s not going to be soon.”


Nonetheless, Commission Vice Chairman Diana Irey Vaughan said, “This is great. One more step,” when McGowen showed her a map of the property, which represents about 58 percent of the nearly 130 acres the airport wants for a longer runway and runway safety area.


The county airport runway is 5,004 feet, but eventually, the runway will be lengthened to a total of 6,500 feet to accommodate larger planes.


An heir is retaining the mineral rights, which includes a conventional natural gas well that has been producing methane for decades. A storage tank and service building would be almost in the center of an extended runway, but funding from the state Bureau of Aviation to relocate them won’t become available until a runway project is imminent.


There are no homes on the property, about half of which is wooded. McGowen said he did not have a closing date.


The master plan for the airport, presented in 2008, includes, in addition to the longer runway, a new terminal and hangars, parallel taxiways and an “arresting” system to stop planes that may roll out of control.


The purchase from the Varner estate is the latest in a series of land acquisitions for the airport. Recently, the county also acquired a 4.2-acre tract of land, the site of three hangars on Airport Road in South Franklin Township, from J. David and Philip Sollon for $700,000. The property was outside the county airport, but McGowen said, “We want to buy that to make it on-airport.” The Sollons are retaining the mineral rights to the property.


In the summer of 2012, the county purchased a little more than a half-acre of land and the so-called green hangar from Air Charter Services Inc. for $391,800. The building is used for storage of equipment for the Public Safety Department, the Furlough Into Service program and the airport.


The hangar is 500 feet from the runway’s center line, and the airport’s master plan calls for it to eventually be demolished.


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