New airport in west Oak Ridge could feature small business jets, 5,000-foot runway

Oak Ridge Airport Site at Heritage Center

An airport with a 5,000-foot runway could serve small business jets and pressurized turbine aircraft at Heritage Center, the former K-25 site, in west Oak Ridge. An image of the proposed runway is in yellow at right. (Photo courtesy Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority)

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.

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  • Susan Gawarecki

    To preface my remarks: I am not opposed to this airport, but I do think that there are a lot of questions that have not been properly researched.

    Downtown Oak Ridge is 30 minutes from McGhee Tyson Airport. That’s not considered good access?

    The proposed location will require removal of a 140 ft thick rock ridge for the NE portion of the runway. Is this economically feasible?

    Has anyone given thought to the safety and security issues associated with private aircraft coming and going in the immediate vicinity of ORNL, SRS, the Y-12 enriched uranium facilities, the mixed waste burial sites across the ORR, and the proposed modular nuclear reactors at TVA’s Breeder Reactor site? Not to mention noise issues that are likely to arise at the expensive west end housing development in Oak Ridge.

    Has the city calculated the opportunity cost of the property and business tax revenue–not to mention the potential for much higher industrial employment–that the 171-acre airport footprint would displace?

    There’s a lot of *hopeful* language in the above story, but let’s see some unbiased economic comparisons of sites with general aviation airports compared to similar sites without. Oak Ridge is known for a degree of boosterism that often doesn’t deliver the promised results. We should be wary of another “magic bullet” development.

    • johnhuotari

      Bill Marrison didn’t mention any opportunity costs or security concerns on Monday, and I’m not sure the city has had much direct involvement in this project, although they have supported it.

      Bill’s presentation did include a slide on noise. It said a general aviation airport does not produce an unacceptable noise environment. It said a normal conversation can be measured at 65 decibels, an overhead plane at 80, a lawn mower at 105, and a Who concert at 120.

      I tried to upload the presentation, but it’s 20MB and I haven’t been able to compress it yet. But I’ll let you know if I do.

      I wasn’t aware of the rock ridge. I’ll have to take a look the next time I’m out that way (assuming I can see it from the roads). Is the ridge across Blair Road from K-25?

      • Susan Gawarecki

        The ridge in question is to the southwest of Blair Road and the haul road–it is a wooded, undeveloped area.

        • johnhuotari

          Okay. Thank you. I think I know the general area now.

  • Jason Allison

    Myself personally, I do not see any more safety concern with this proposed airport as far as Y12, ORNL,X10 that could be more of an issue than what is already present with the small aircraft currently flying over. The airport is being proposed as a convenience for prospective businesses being that it will cut out an hour of travel just to get to and from the horizon center area. Seeing as the forecasted construction date is as far away as it is, Ithink it shows they know they have a lot of planning to do.

    • Sharyl

      It is my understanding that private planes have a no fly zone in Oak Ridge that is within a certain area of the Y-12/ORNL/K-25 sites. So while they may fly over the Oak Ridge area, there are places that are not allowed.

      • Jason Allison

        Ad far as I know, for which I could be wrong, there used to be a set no-fly zone but has since been lifted. I cannot find any info on any current restrictions

        • Johnny Beck

          As of Feb of this year, the 1992 National Security Area restrictions were still in place:

          Oak Ridge, TN
          Boundaries. Beginning at lat. 35°58’55”N., long. 84°16’51”W.; to lat. 35°59’54”N., long.
          84°14’39”W.; to lat. 35°59’26”N., long. 84°13’55”W.; to lat. 35°58’02”N., long. 84°16’34”W.

          Altitudes. Surface to 3,000 feet MSL.

          Using Agency. U.S. Department of Energy Y-12 Plant, TN.

          Definition:
          A national security area (NSA) consists of airspace of defined vertical and lateral
          dimensions established at locations where there is a requirement for increased security of
          ground facilities. The purpose of such national security areas is to request pilot
          cooperation by voluntarily avoiding flight through the NSA.
          When circumstances dictate a need for a greater level of security, flight in an NSA may
          be temporarily prohibited by regulation under the provisions of 14 CFR Section 99.7,
          Special Security Instructions.
          Such prohibitions will be issued by FAA Headquarters and disseminated via the U.S.
          NOTAM System.

          • Jason Allison

            Thank you. I couldn’t find anything. What that is saying however, it is not a no-fly zone on a regular basis, and, 3,000 ft is well within the ceiling height of any small aircraft.If you were toabideby the set forth restrictions, you would only be doing so on avoluntary basis and at any point when the perceived threat level has been increased will the restrictions be enforced.

          • Johnny Beck

            It’s true that it isn’t a prohibited or restricted zone, but I’d look at it as a “it’s better if you don’t” zone.
            The current runway plans should not be a problem either way. Most flights would probably take off to the west, and any going east should have no problem avoiding the thin area noted in my last post. It’s only about 3500 ft wide from that direction (flying west to east). And they have over 6 miles as the crow flies to adjust before they get to it.

          • Jason Allison

            I will say I agree. Either way I view this as a good opportunity for Oak Ridge. No need to fuss and nit pick over the what ifs

          • Helen Standifer

            They can’t fly over, they just walk in these days.

  • Helen Standifer

    I’ll be glad when women take over….no more wasting money on the mens’ very expensive and possibly dangerous toys. Yuk,Yuk. You guys better keep on those toes, we’re onto you.

    • Sam Hopwood

      Bullseye!! One one the best comments I’ve seen posted!

      • Helen Standifer

        Thank you, Sam.

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