July 1, 2015 Edition

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WR aldermen vote to
support projects at airport

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

A special Walnut Ridge City Council meeting called Monday led to a long discussion concerning issues with how airport maintenance has been handled in the past by both previous commissions and administrations.

The discussion launched after a resolution to authorize the Walnut Ridge Regional Airport Commission to take out a line of credit to pay for approximately $1,077,000 in projects. The airport will be reimbursed for about $900,000 of the work through two Arkansas Department of Aeronautics grants.

This will leave a difference of $177,000 to be paid back in monthly increments.

The project includes concrete repairs, striping, signage, additional safety features and repairs to the historic tetrahedron.

"These two state grants are badly needed," said commission chair Don Cavenaugh. "We need to take advantage of every grant that we can."

Alderman Allen Smith spoke at length about the ways the local airport money has been used poorly in the past.

Using Stuttgart as an example, Smith explained how other airports have closed unnecessary runways in order to decrease concrete repairs and be better stewards of their spending. He said at the Walnut Ridge Airport, many non-aviation businesses are paying for runways when roads and buildings are in need of repairs.

Snapp said he has verified that the airport can use rent and revenue for repairs on roads and buildings. Previously he was under the impression that it had to be used on runway and airport-specific maintenance.

However, Snapp added that the grants in question could not be used in this way and must be allocated to the projects already planned. "We're trying to move forward, now is not the time to lose $900,000 in grants."

Through his research, Snapp said he discovered that the city could be liable for up to 20 years of grants if the airport were to lose its airport status by failing compliance, which it has been struggling with for years.

"This commission is working toward getting the airport back in compliance," he said.

Since the streets are technically the responsibility of the city as the airport is in the city limits, Alderman Jeff Taylor, chairman of the street/sanitation committee, mentioned that he would be willing to look into grant funding for street repairs at the airport next year.

Smith said he just doesn't want to see more money put into the runways and get no revenue back out of them.

Jon Walter said that project could be an investment in the future. "Why couldn't we be Northeast Arkansas just like there is a Northwest Arkansas?" He said with the growth in the area and more industry coming in that the airport could be a very valuable commodity in the future.

The resolution passed with Smith being the only opposing vote. The loan documents will be handled by both Snapp and Cavenaugh.

Also at the meeting, the council adopted a combined emergency operations plan. The 39-page document covers the essential functions of Walnut Ridge during all threats and emergencies.

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