Lewis County Herald - Serving Hohenwald, Lewis County Tennessee Since 1898

By Becky Jane Newbold
Managing Editor 

Failed vote for airport runway puts $2.4 million in jeopardy

State Aeronautics grant plus USDA funding would cover 95.75% of cost to reconstruct runway


August 20, 2020

Pete Noblin

Lewis County Mayor Jonah Keltner appeared stunned when it became apparent the vote was failing during a vote Monday evening.

Members of the Lewis County Commission voted down a 4.25 percent match to a $2,576,477 airport runway reconstruction project Monday night.

All commissioners were present with the exception of Commissioner Connie Sharp. Newly elected Commissioner Kyle Bobo was in attendance as a non-voting participant. He is to be sworn-in in September.

Asphalt at Lewis County Airport, John A. Baker Field, is the oldest in the state of Tennessee. A collapsed pipe under the runway as well as divots and cracks contributed to the county's eligibility to receive $2,079,528.15 in state funding. An additional $387,500 in USDA Share funds further lowered Lewis County's required match to $109,448.85.

County Commissioners, forced to budget the project's projected match before the bid was received, earmarked only $30,000 for the five percent match in the 2020-21 fiscal year budget. The potential loss of $2.4 million in grant funding, coupled with possible safety issues forthcoming without the reconditioning of the runway, could mean Lewis County would be without an airport, Airport Manager Paul Bridges confirmed Monday.

Airport traffic in July included 255 take-offs/landings with 27 planes from other parts of the country, Mr. Bridges reported Tuesday. In July, 433.4 gallons of fuel were sold.

Families visiting relatives, people looking to relocate to Lewis County, business executives in the insurance industry and with The Elephant Sanctuary, among others, use the airport monthly, Mr. Bridges added in an interview Tuesday.

Benson Hadley of Barge Design Solutions was on hand Monday to answer questions and to inform that the failed vote could push Lewis County back to the "end of the line" in grant funding opportunities. Another community would likely receive the $2 million, if Lewis County is unable to meet the match.

Budget Committee members explained Lewis County was barely in the black.

"We balanced our budget with COVID money, for God's sake," Robert Brewer said.

Approximately $150,000 has already been spent on pre-engineering, and the project was slated to take about 90 days.

Commissioner Austin Carroll, who initially voted yes, in favor of the funding, changed his vote to no.

"I thought this was already in the budget. I can't vote for it if we don't have the money," he explained. He requested the measure be brought back to the Budget Committee to explore funding options. Carroll, Commissioners Ronnie and Robert Brewer, all members of the Budget Committee, spoke willingly of seeking funding.

Pete Noblin

Benson Hadley of Barge Design Solutions answered questions from members of the Board of Commissioners regarding a runway reconstruction project at the local airport.

Voting in favor of funding the match for runway reconstruction were Commissioners Aren Ragsdale and Allison Tanner. Voting no were Commissioners Jerry Ashmore, Robert Brewer, Ronnie Brewer, Brian Peery, Larry Hensley, Timmie and T. J. Hinson, Wendell Kelley, Patrick Halfacre, Jim Grinder, Bill Dyer, Jason Fite and Carroll.

Airport Manager Bridges told Commissioners if the runway deterioration is not amended soon, the state of Tennessee will no longer support the airport, placing liability on Lewis County. "They will close it," he stated.

If a match for the grant is found quickly, Lewis County's runway project may be pushed to the spring of next year, rather than being scheduled for this fall.

"The state of Tennessee dictates and guides us to keep the airport in compliance," Mr. Bridges commented Tuesday. "We are obligated to keep the airport running in a safe and efficient manner."

Committees are scheduled to meet September 14, 2020, on week later than usual due to the Labor Day holiday.


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