By Betsy Finklea
James Stephens from the S.C. Aeronautics Commission spoke to the Dillon County Council about the Dillon County Airport at a recent meeting.
Stephens said over the past seven years the S.C. Aeronautics Commission has done a few things with Dillon County to maintain the airport. Some of these things include crack sealing, pavement rejuvenation, and lighting projects. These things were done to keep the airport open to the public. He said just like a house there are requirements to maintain it, and these were done.
Stephens said recent airport history includes a letter to the administration from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) about the specific status of the airport in the federal system called the NIPEAS. The Dillon County Airport is part of that system, and in the past has gotten $150,000 year entitlement money to make improvements, and those improvements were made.
About four years ago, the FAA restricted this system with the lowest class as unclassified meaning that you have less than 10 airplanes. Due to Dillon County becoming unclassified, the $150,000 was no longer available through its normal offerings. The goal is to get back to the status to receive the $150,000. This is 90 percent funding that can be banked up to four years to accumulate to $600,000. Ninety percent funding means that when you do a project, the FAA will pay 90 percent. The S.C. Aeronautics Commission will pay 5 percent leaving the county a 5 percent local match.
Stephens said the letter to the Dillon County Administrator stated that if Dillon County could not demonstrate that they needed to stay in the federal system, then they would lost that entitlement money and would be taken out of the federal system and would be ineligible for those federal dollars in the future.
Stephens said he was there to talk about a plan that he had worked with county officials on. He said it was a plan that obviously had some expenses, but the county had a state legislative member that went to bat for the county in the state budget process and got $180,000 for this airport.
Stephens said when they talk about this plan and talk about the local match, the plan is to take this $180,000 and maximize it as far as they can with that money, state money, U.S. Department of Agriculture money, and then local money as a last resort.
Stephens said he can’t put a whole program in front of them because it is not his airport and not his call. “It’s your airport,” he said. “It’s your call.”
He said what he was presenting was an idea to maximize funds and to help grow the airport. He said if they get 10 based planes, then they will upgrade from an unclassified airport to a basic airport. This would enable them to take advantage of their $150,000 entitlement money each year and the ability to compete for discretionary dollars. If the county does not get up to a basic airport, they can’t even compete for these dollars. He said the bridge they are trying to gap is going from zero to ten airplanes.
The county administrator had to respond to the FAA letter with reasoning to keep the airport open, which he did. The S.C. Aeronautics Commission also wrote a letter in support of keeping the Dillon County Airport open. “It’s got value to you,” said Stephens. He said many times people look at an airport and say that it is only the rich group flying and the airport has no value to my community or me. He said it can be demonstrated across the state and the nation that if you have an airport that this is an avenue that people use to come and go in the community. He said as the county tries to attract more Harbor Freights and more companies that one of the things they will evaluate the community on is their transportation infrastructure. He said while people may not use the airport all day every day, it is a part of the county’s transportation infrastructure and will help with the county’s economic development initiatives.
“The Aeronautics Commission wants to let you know today that we’re behind you,” said Stephens.
Stephens said that he and one of his aeronautics commissioners met with county officials and mapped out a plan that will not cost the county much in the early years.
He said in the past, the county has done a good job of maintaining the airport. He said they were at a point now where it is going to take more work to grow the airport.
Stephens asked that the council consider the plan and the funding they have.
Stephens said only two counties in the state don’t have airports – Calhoun and Cherokee. He said he doesn’t want to see Dillon County lose their airport.
Charles Taylor then took over the presentation. He thanked Rep. Jackie Hayes for securing the $180,000. Taylor said the two greatest needs they had now were the fuel tanks and the terminal building. He said without this, they cannot even open. There was further discussion.
Upon a motion by Councilman Archie Scott and a second by Councilman Jack Scott, the council voted to move forward. The vote was unanimous.
According to a public notice, “The Dillon County Council will hold a public meeting on 12-11-19 at its office at 109 South 3rd Avenue, Dillon at 4:00 p.m. The purpose of the meeting is to give an opportunity to become acquainted with a proposed Rural Development project consisting generally of Improvements to The Dillon County Airport, Equipment for Dillon County and Building Improvements. Citizens will have the opportunity to comment on such items as economic and environmental impact, service area and alternatives to the project.”
* If you would like to view the meeting reported in today’s article, you can view is on The Dillon Herald’s channel on YouTube.
By Betsy Finklea