Airport project manager Michael Cole, who represents Barge Waggoner Sumner and Cannon consultants, updated the City Council on the pending Federal Aviation Administration grant at a work session Monday night.
A pre-application the city filed in November is being screened by FAA, and the city should receive a “tentative allocation” letter in about two weeks, Cole said. The letter will say whether FAA will fund the purchase of about 18 acres of land connected to the north-northwest side of the Municipal Airport. At that point, Cole said it will be the council’s decision to accept or turn down the grant.
“The proposed land acquisition, we feel, is critical to the airport’s long-term growth and development,” Cole said. “The airport is where it’s at; you can’t really pick it up and move it. Some of the land issues here are a hot topic, and we don’t really have a dog in that fight, but just as your airport consultant, we’d like to tell you any land you can secure at the airport we feel is critical for the long-term improvements.”
The acreage in question was assumed to be city property and was included in an airport expansion project last fall before it was discovered the land was deeded to the IDB in 1996. In November, IDB expressed interest in keeping the property, adjacent to the Industrial Park, saying it is the only area that remains in the city for industrial development.
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but if the IDB doesn’t feel like that’s what they need to do at this time, as far as sell the property, this is dead in the water,” Council President Rocky Lucas said at the work session.
“It could be,” Airport Board Chairman Tommy Dobson said. “You could go through the condemnation process. I don’t know if you want to do that. The bottom line is it’s your decision to make. Does it belong to the airport, as other councils have said, or does it continue in the possession of the IDB? Two other councils have said it goes to the airport. We did not know it had a snafu in the title.”
While there are no immediate plans for the property, Dobson said it is a prime location for additional aircraft storage and hangar space.
“If we don’t grow, we’re going to shrink,” he said. “We have no amount of property for us to plan to grow on. What we’ve got is filled. For us to grow any appreciable amount, we’ve got to have additional property. The only property we can utilize to grow our airport is along our taxiway. That’s the direction the board’s going to take, and that’s something the FAA is willing to put money in right now and say, ‘Go for it.’”
Because of a sales agreement between IDB and the city, a majority of IDB’s profit from the sales and development of that land goes to the city. City Clerk Patricia Carden asked how FAA would handle the situation, if the grant was approved, since it would pay the city for the land acquisition, and the city would then get some of the money back from the purchase of the land.
“We can get the answer when y’all approve the grant,” Dobson said.
Councilmen eventually agreed to call a special work session April 22 at 5 p.m. at City Hall to hear from representatives from the Airport Board and IDB.
“If it is indeed our call who the land goes to, let’s get both sides in the same room to convince us why the airport needs this property and convince us why the IDB needs it,” Lucas said. “I’m for doing what’s best for the city of Sylacauga. I’m a supporter of the airport and the IDB. They both do great things in our city, and this is not a decision I’m going to make without some significant thought.”
“I have my own opinions of the airport,” Councilman Joe Hogan said. “And I’ve heard what the airport thinks is beneficial to the city. I’ve heard what the IDB thinks is best and talked about other land they might could acquire, but they want to hold onto the land out there, and what we’re talking about is a swamp, I’ve seen it first-hand. They don’t have anybody that’s going to develop it, and there’s also a building sitting on that same property that’s been empty for seven years, so I think I would like to hear the best case presented from both of you. Just ring the bell and go at it.”
Dobson asked if their presentations at the work session will be the “make it or break it decision” as to who receives the property, and Lucas said he feels they will.
The council holds its regular meeting today at 9 a.m. at City Hall.
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