FAA offers to pay city for IDB-owned land
by Emily Adams
SYLACAUGA – A $358,000 expansion project at the Sylacauga Municipal Airport is up in the air after it was discovered the city does not own a portion of land included in the project.

Airport Board Chairman Tommy Dobson addressed the newly inaugurated City Council at a work session Monday night. Dobson said about 18-22 acres intended for the project, which involves expanding the apron and removing obstructions around the airport, was actually deeded to the Industrial Development Board in 1995. Dobson said the IDB is not interested in selling the land back to the city.

The FAA is now offering the city a land acquisition appropriation to pay for the property and reimburse the IDB for any investments made in the land if the city is able to acquire it, Dobson said. In order to secure the appropriation, the city has to turn in a pre-application by Nov. 15. This step does not commit the city to the project, but is necessary should the city decide to follow through with the project this year.

The appropriation, which is separate from the $150,000 FAA entitlement funds received annually, may not be available next year if the council fails to complete the pre-application, Dobson said.

“Appropriations right now, if you ask for them, are extremely hard to get, but the FAA has obviously said, ‘We want this property, and we’re willing to put money into it right now,’” he said. “It is an appropriation for this year only, and it will go away come next September. Whether or not we can ask for it again and have it appropriated – that’s an unknown.”

The previous council already awarded a bid for construction of the expansion project and also approved grant agreements with the FAA, the state and Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon consultants. The ownership gaffe was realized when outgoing mayor and councilman Jim Heigl attended the IDB’s September meeting, where the board voted to hold onto the deed, he said. Heigl presented the conflict to the previous council, which asked to carry it over until the new council took office.

When Councilman Joe Hogan asked why the IDB did not want to sell, Heigl said it is concerned airport expansion would limit options for a 60,000 square foot spec building it constructed on Billingsley Road, part of the Industrial Park. The building is listed for sale on the IDB’s website for $1.4 million.

“It would lock the spec building down, and if industry wanted to expand, they couldn’t expand,” Heigl said.

Part of the property intended for the airport project runs between the spec building and the current runway.

The IDB said Tuesday it will be available to address this topic as a body at its Nov. 15 board meeting at 7:30 a.m. at the Economic Development Authority building.

Dobson told the council land acquisition is necessary if the airport is to grow.

“We need some help out there, and we need somebody who will take a very deep interest in our airport and see what we can do,” he said. “The demand is there, surprisingly, when everything else seems to be floating away in our nation, but we still have some demand out there we have not yet met. The board’s perspective is we would like to do it as far as we can go until we start seeing excess capacity, and we have never been there.”

Hogan said he would prefer to hear from the FAA and the IDB before making a final decision on how to proceed with the property, and other councilmen agreed. Rather than a choice between developing the airport or the IDB, as Dobson suggested, Council President Rocky Lucas said the decision is about “us being serious about developing the city of Sylacauga.”

Also at the work session, the council discussed: finalizing grant agreements to relocate the downtown train switch; a request for $1,000 each to SAFE and the Care House for holiday outreach projects; lowering the city’s fixed assets threshold; an update to the business license ordinance; liaison assignments; the holiday meeting schedule; and a liquor license for Harvey’s on Noble.

The council meets today at 9 a.m. at City Hall.

Contact Emily Adams at eadams@dailyhome.com.

© 2012