Leaders ready to start improvements: Atlanta consulting firm says county has enough money to begin some projects

Sep. 13--HAMILTON, Ga. -- Harris County Airport could have a 10-bay T hangar and a self-service fuel farm for both jet and standard aircraft in place next May if county commissioners move quickly and the process runs smoothly, an airport consultant said Wednesday.

The airport, on the west side of Pine Mountain, has plenty of needs, said Phil Eberly, aviation program manager for WK Dickson, an Atlanta-based consulting firm. During a called meeting, he told Harris County commissioners that the county has more than enough money coming from the Federal Aviation Administration and Georgia Department of Transportation to complete these facilities.

Future grants will be required to take care of some needs -- repairing cracks, doing an overlay of the 5,000-foot runway, repairing the taxiway, extending the runway to 5,500 feet and adding a second T hangar that perhaps would serve larger aircraft.

County officials would like to see the repairs of the airport beacon and airport runway lights addressed first. Eberly said he would look into the beacon and runway light problems and let commissioners know how they might be addressed.

Commissioners asked Eberly to provide copies of a proposed contract for consulting services that could be voted on at Tuesday's commission meeting. That would get the ball rolling on the hangar and fuel farm.

He projects the cost of the 11,800-square-foot hangar building at $295,000 and completing taxiways at $251,850, for a total of $546,850.

The county has more than $1.04 million available in federal and state funds, including $323,000 that the FAA recently identified for the airport project. About $718,000 in previously approved federal and state funds are being held for the county.

Eberly said commissioners might aim at a full overlay of the runway in 2009, but that prior work could be done to fill in cracks and make the runway safer.

When investing in fuel storage tanks, the consultant advised commissioners to buy for the future -- not for today's needs -- because greater capacity will be needed later. He said it would be better to install 12,000-gallon tanks rather than 10,000-gallon tanks.

The airport has only two planes based there now, but Eberly said the hangar would draw more planes. That the hangar and fuel farm would increase revenue the county can build up to help meet its matching share for federal and state grants.

If the county grades the site for the hangar, he said that work could go toward meeting the local matching share.

For many airport improvements, the county must pay only 5 percent of the costs, with the federal and state governments paying the rest.

Moving forward

Commissioners asked whether federal and state grant money could be used to buy or lease fuel trucks to deliver fuel to planes at the airport, especially jet aircraft. Eberly said he doubts grant funds could be used for that purpose.

"I'm ready to tell him to move forward," Commissioner Charles Wyatt said. Other commissioners indicated they agree, though no vote was taken.

Eberly outlined the process for getting the hangar and fuel farm completed. The plans would be released to plan rooms, advertisement of bids would be published locally, and contractors who have previously bid for those types of projects would also be called. Bids for the fuel farm and hangar would be opened and awarded. The winning companies would order steel and other materials and supplies for the hangar and fuel farm equipment. He estimated it will take six weeks to put up the hangar; the fuel farm could be completed a few weeks earlier than the hangar.

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