A presentation that will provide information about the status of the Oak Ridge General Aviation Airport project has been scheduled for Tuesday evening.
The presentation is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 16, in the Robertsville Middle School Library. It’s part of a joint work session between the Oak Ridge City Council and Oak Ridge Board of Education that will begin at 6 p.m.
The airport presentation will be given by Billy Stair, aviation consultant, and Bill Marrison, president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. In December, Stair gave a presentation about the airport to Roane County officials.
After that meeting, Oak Ridge Today reported that Tennessee officials have appropriated $15 million that could be used for the proposed airport at Heritage Center, the former K-25 site in west Oak Ridge. The appropriation, which is pending approval of the Oak Ridge Airport by the Federal Aviation Administration, would be enough to cover about 33 percent to 38 percent of the current estimated project cost of $40 million to $45 million.
The appropriation was announced by Tennessee Department of Transportation Commissioner John C. Schroer in a November 8 letter to members of the Tennessee General Assembly.
During the December presentation, Stair said significant progress has been made, but the airport project is not yet a “done deal.”
The project is “sitting on” $18.2 million, including the $15 million state appropriation and $3.2 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission for design work, Stair said. And there are “good-faith commitments” of another $15 million, Stair said.
That means there is about $33 million to $34 million available for the project, according to a conservative estimate, Stair said.
Stair said most airports receive 90 percent federal funding and 10 percent local. This project is different, he said. The FAA share of the Oak Ridge Airport would be much smaller, and it would be the difference between the roughly $33.2 million that has been secured and the total project cost, Stair said.
“We do not currently know the precise project cost,” Stair said. “That will depend on the final runway alignment, which determines the amount of dirt that must be moved. We are in discussions with FAA on that issue. $40 million-45 million is a reasonable estimate at this time.”
In December, Stair said the Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a master plan for the airport but has not yet approved the proposal. That’s the main hurdle now. It’s not clear when the FAA might make a decision.
Airport project officials met with senior FAA officials in Washington, D.C., in October. One of the major issues then was what are known as runway protection zones, Stair said. Those are trapezoidal areas along the runway approach and departure paths.
“They don’t want any kind of obstruction in that runway protection zone,” Stair said. Obstructions could include, for example, a cell phone tower—or a highway. But Highway 58 in west Oak Ridge has encroached on about 150 feet, or roughly 3 percent, of the runway protection zones, Stair said.
Project officials and designers planned to meet in early December to work on moving the 5,000-foot runway about 150 feet north and 200 feet west to ensure there are no obstructions in the runway protection zones. But moving the runway is expected to add to the airport cost, although it’s not clear how much it might change. There is a hillside of up to about 60 feet in the area of the airport. The airport would be on the south side of Heritage Center along Highway 58, and land will have to be cleared and dirt moved for the project.
Stair there is no funding from the City of Oak Ridge or Roane County. (Heritage Center is in the Roane County portion of Oak Ridge.)
“There is no financial exposure for either the city or county,” Stair said.
The Oak Ridge Airport would be the third for the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority. The other two are McGhee Tyson in Blount County and Downtown Island in Knoxville.
The FAA has included the project in the National Program of Integrated Airport Systems. That means it’s eligible for FAA funding, Stair said.
Besides the FAA, other direct and indirect funding sources include the U.S. Department of Energy, which will provide the land; Appalachian Regional Commission; Tennessee Aeronautics Commission; and Tennessee Department of Transportation.
Stair said the free land is very significant, and it could be the difference in this project. At most airports, land or site preparation is usually worth about $10 million, he said. The land in Oak Ridge will transfer as soon as the FAA gives the “green light” to the project, Stair said. The MKAA submitted an application to DOE for the transfer of 171 acres at Heritage Center in June 2013.
The airport land would be adjacent to parcels owned by the Community Reuse Organization of East Tennessee, which started the airport project with a request to MKAA in 2009. CROET redevelops former federal property for private commercial and industrial use. Stair has said the project has involved a large number of local, state, and federal “stakeholders,” and it has broad political support, including from the state’s governor and legislative delegation, Oak Ridge City Council and Roane County Commission, state and federal agencies, the business community, and regional pilots.
The TAC, which funded development of an airport master plan, has provided $450,000 for the project, Stair said, and the ARC has provided the $3.2 million for design work.
The project is now in the last of three phases. DOE found no significant impact in January 2016, and the master plan was developed in April of this year. Other additional steps include securing funding sources, transferring the land, and construction.
There are other issues being worked on in the meantime, including the relocation of Haul Road and Blair Road at ETTP, a building demolition schedule at Heritage Center, issues related to Tennessee Valley Authority power lines, and moving DOE information technology buildings that serve the Oak Ridge Reservation.
Among the justifications for the project have been accommodating aircraft in the region and making the industrial parks in west Oak Ridge more attractive.
Marrison, the MKAA president, said there is a waiting list of more than 100 pilots at Downtown Island in Knoxville, which has a 3,500-foot runway. There could be 38 aircraft in Oak Ridge in the first year, which is a high number, Marrison said.
“It helps us accommodate the region,” Marrison said previously, pointing out that airplane hangars are full at McGhee Tyson Airport and at Downtown Island Airport.
Regarding economic development, Stair said one company that has announced plans to build a manufacturing facility in Oak Ridge could have 350-400 flights in its first year. That company, Coquí RadioPharmaceutical, has medical isotopes with a half-life of 36 hours, officials said in December, and the company’s plans to invest here are reported to have a lot to do with the proposed airport.
Wade Creswell, president and chief executive officer of The Roane Alliance, Roane County’s economic development organization, said the airport would take the site to a “whole new level.”
Heritage Center is being converted from a federal site that once enriched uranium for atomic weapons and commercial nuclear power plants to a private industrial park. The uranium enrichment operations have been shut down for about three decades, and DOE wants the industrial park to succeed, Stair said. An airport could make a difference, he said. Heritage Center has access to rail lines and barges, there are freeways nearby and utilities available, and the area of the former K-25 Building will be part of the relatively new Manhattan Project National Historical Park.
The Oak Ridge Airport could accommodate general aviation and corporate aircraft but not airlines. The runway could run roughly parallel to State Route 58. Airport construction could take about 1.5 years, Marrison said in 2017.
The FAA has already approved the site, Marrison said.
Stair said a sophisticated noise analysis has been done already, but the FAA would likely do its own study. Airport project representatives have already met with residents in the area of Whippoorwill Drive in west Oak Ridge. In December, project representatives said any noise from the airport would be lower in volume in that area than the noise from a weedeater or lawn mower. A resident living four miles from the airport would hear airplanes, but the sounds would not be intrusive, Marrison said.
Roane County Commissioner Steve Kelley, who lives in west Oak Ridge and represents District 4, said the airport would be about four miles or so from the nearest residence. District 4 includes Oak Hills, Oliver Springs, and Orchard View.
“I think the benefits far outweigh any issues,” Kelley said.
See the Tuesday evening work session agenda here. Besides the airport, other agenda items include an update and presentation on the Oak Ridge Preschool project, a review of the state letter grade school rating system, a review of the school’s use of the city-owned Building 1010 in Commerce Park, and a general update on the electrical substation project at the Y-12 National Security Complex.
See our December story about the airport here.
See the TDOT letter announcing the $15 million appropriation that could be used for the Oak Ridge Airport here.
See the state appropriations legislation that includes an amendment for the Oak Ridge Airport project here.
See the amendment, Amendment 14, here.
See the environmental assessment here.
See an earlier story from March here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
Do you appreciate this story or our work in general? If so, please consider a monthly subscription to Oak Ridge Today. See our Subscribe page here. Thank you for reading Oak Ridge Today.
Copyright 2017 Oak Ridge Today. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.