Anniston Needs FAA Grant For Airport Signage upgrades

July 22--Anniston's airport could lose the majority of its funding if the city does not obtain a $400,000 grant to improve federally required signs there.

During its work session Monday, the Anniston City Council discussed the need to upgrade the signs at the Anniston Regional Airport to meet federal requirements. Not doing so could mean the loss of all federal money for the airport, which funds the majority of the facility's operations, city officials say.

City Manager Brian Johnson said the city will apply for a $400,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to pay for the signs, which include runway signage. The city would be required to pay a 5 percent or 10 percent match for the grant if it's approved.

"We're applying for this grant because the FAA inspector said so," Johnson said. "We don't have a choice if we want to be a fully permitted airport."

Toby Bennington, city planner, said the city has a good chance of obtaining the grant.

"We anticipate we're going to get the grant," Bennington said.

Johnson said the FAA inspector came to the airport for its annual inspection in April, noting that the runway and other required airport traffic signs must be replaced.

"He thought the signage was a little faded, a little tattered," Johnson said. "It's fully 100 percent on us to keep the airfield fully permitted and make the airport better."

Bennington said if Anniston did not replace the signs, the airport could be downgraded in status, meaning the city could no longer apply for FAA grants to fund the facility. Bennington said the city receives between $300,000 and $600,000 from the FAA every year, which accounts for about 95 percent of the money spent on maintenance and general upkeep of the airport.

"It would restrict us considerably in maintaining the airfield if we lost our opportunity to pursue FAA grants," Bennington said.

Bennington said the city must show the FAA that it was making progress with the project over the next six months.

Also during the work session, the council discussed more details on its plan to restrict payday lenders in the city. Payday loan businesses offer quick cash to customers in need of assistance, but at relatively high interest rates.

Johnson recommended two ways that could be used in tandem to restrict payday lenders, including passing an ordinance allowing one such business per every 2,500 residents. Doing so would allow only nine payday lenders to exist in Anniston in total, once some of the grandfathered-in 15 current payday lenders close.

"There would be no new payday lenders until the current amount of payday lenders dropped below nine," Johnson said.

Johnson said the new ordinance could also restrict payday lenders by distance, suggesting any new such businesses must be at least 1,200 feet apart. The city already has similar distance restrictions between churches and establishments that serve alcohol.

Johnson noted that the new ordinance, which he expects to have ready for the council to vote on in a few weeks, will still be a temporary measure. Johnson said any permanent restrictions will eventually be added to the city's zoning laws, which are currently being overhauled and updated.

"But that could be a year before that's completely done," Johnson said of zoning.

Johnson added that with zoning, the city could also restrict payday lenders geographically, such as keeping them away from where low-income residents live.

In other business, the council discussed applying for a grant from the Alabama Department of Transportation to upgrade the Anniston Multi-Modal Transportation Center, which is a stop for Amtrak and the main hub for the city's public bus service.

Bennington said the city has not yet determined how much money it will request through the grant. If approved, the city will use the grant to pay for parking improvements and preparations for the Chief Ladiga Trail. The city plans to extend the trail into the city and end it at 4th Street by the center.

"This is one of three stops in the state for Amtrak -- here, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa," said Mayor Vaughn Stewart. "We must remain relevant."

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