The airport proposed at Heritage Center in west Oak Ridge could feature a 5,000-foot runway, accommodate all but the largest business jets, and cost between $35 million and $45 million, an official said Monday.
Construction at the site is possible around 2017 to 2018, said Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.
The airport would be built at the front of Heritage Center, the former K-25 site, and the runway would parallel Highway 58.
It could help recruit and retain industry, Marrison said. The K-25 site was built to enrich uranium during World War II for the world’s first atomic bombs as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project, and it was also used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons and commercial nuclear power plants through the Cold War. Today, it’s being converted into a massive industrial park.
Marrison said industrial parks and general aviation airports go together.
“We’re hopeful that we’re going to stimulate the economy a little,” he said.
The Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, which finds new uses for U.S. Department of Energy property, asked MKAA to consider the request to build an airport in 2009. The airport authority initially opposed the idea, but reconsidered once it learned the property could be donated, Marrison said. Location and property are usually two of the major obstacles, he told Oak Ridge City Council members on Monday.
The Oak Ridge airport could serve airplanes that are too small for McGhee Tyson Airport in Blount County and too large for Downtown Island Airport in Knoxville.
“There is a need here…for a third airport,” Marrison said. Planes that could use the airport include smaller business jets and pressurized turbine aircraft.
Three sites have been evaluated—one each at Horizon Center, Heritage Center, and ED-3, which is across Highway 58 from K-25. Heritage Center offered the best combination of land and resources, Marrison said.
Officials involved in the project said DOE has agreed to evaluate the transfer of 171 acres at Heritage Center for the project. It would still require archaeological and environmental reviews and a public hearing.
The airport would be owned and managed by MKAA and could employ six-10 people, Marrison said.
He said there about 1,759 registered pilots in the Oak Ridge region and 924 registered aircraft.
He said 90 percent of the airport’s funding would come from the federal government through aviation fuel taxes and user fees. Taxes on airplane fuel and parts go into an airport improvement fund used to maintain and fund new airports. The state would also contribute five percent, and MKAA would provide the remaining five.
“It all comes from aviation users,” Marrison said.
Besides improving the area’s business appeal, the airport could also be used to support “megaprojects” by DOE and other agencies, such as the proposed small modular nuclear reactors at the former Clinch River Breeder Reactor Site in west Oak Ridge and the multi-billion-dollar Uranium Processing Facility at the Y-12 National Security Complex, Marrison said.
The Oak Ridge airport would not be used for commercial traffic. It would be limited to corporate and private planes in Oak Ridge, and those doing business in the city and surrounding area.
Marrison said the airport could initially house 17 planes but that could grow to 50.
The project is now entering its next phase, which is to be included in state and federal airport systems, Marrison said.
Subsequent steps could include the land transfer, development of an airport master plan, and environmental permitting, followed later by preliminary and final designs, site clearing and demolition, and construction work such as grading and drainage. Blair Road and the K-25 haul road would have to be rerouted, Marrison said.
Oak Ridge Mayor Tom Beehan said the proposal was another potential “tipping point” for economic development in the city.
See the Oak Ridge Airport website for more information.