Grant to provide airport improvements
By By James Crawford
Atmore continued to be on the receiving end of major good news for a second time this week with an announcement on Tuesday that the city had been selected to receive a grant for $150,000 from the Federal Aviation Administration for improvements to the Atmore Airport.
The grant is provided by the FAA's Airport Improvement Program for the express purpose of making improvements to an airport's facilities or structures. The grant is part of a 90/10 matching program that the city has worked to procure for nearly two years.
"We see this money as a good way to get things started. We've been working on the airport for a number of years now," Mayor Howard Shell said. "We need to do some things around the end of the runway and around the cemetery. This is like a lot of things we work on, it's long term, but you have to get started."
"One of the things that potential manufacturers want to see is construction going on when they come through town on a visit," ADOT Aeronautics Bureau Chief John Eagerton said.
Eagerton, who was on hand to deliver the good news, continued to elaborate on the benefits of improving the existing facilities and capacities of the airport saying that any improvements made now will have lasting benefit to the city, especially in terms of Atmore's continued push to land new industry at its two industrial parks. "It may not get you on the short list but it can keep you off," Eagerton said when speaking of lists that companies make concerning potential new sites.
According to Eagerton, one of the first things a potential new business will ask about when considering a town for a location is the airport availability.
"We know that airports are key elements to economic development, but it's not always as obvious in smaller communities until after the fact. We understand this and that's why we want to help smaller communities refine their existing facilities," Eagerton said. "This grant is a 90/10 matching program. The city has to meet the other 10 percent, but we give you 90 cents on the dollar. It's a very generous program."
According to Eagerton, the money is intended to help address any safety needs or concerns that the smaller airports might have and to help get them in a better position to be eligible for more federal money.
"To get federal funding, you have to meet federal guidelines on safety," Eagerton said. "The FAA is very serious about making sure the end of runways are clean and cleared of any obstructions. These are the things the FAA is going to want to see done with this money. But, once you get this money, you can qualify for more federal funding."
According to Shell, the city has several improvement projects in the works once the grant money is transferred, including installing a lighted windsock, clearing brush and much needed improvements to the end of the runway, a critical concern of the FAA and a possible stumbling block to procuring any additional federal grants.
The city has also had a few items on the airport's wish list for several years, including possible hangers. "If we can get some of these safety things out of the way, our airport can be along the way to becoming a state of the art airport," Shell said. "Once we get the improvements done, we can possibly start on other projects like building hangers."
"With the aviation bill we're seeing Alabama get 65-70 million dollars, more money than ever before. The state is having a hard time keeping up its matching money," Eagerton said. "What we're doing at the state level is to fund the things that the FAA will not fund, such as terminals and underground storage tanks."
According to Eagerton, airports can, in some cases, generate upwards to $800,000 in local economic impact. "We're seeing more and more that airports like the one in Atmore are playing a role in landing industry," Eagerton said. "Fayette County doesn't a facility like this and they missed out twice last year on landing new industry. That's why continuing to improve this airport is vital. You don't want your community to miss an opportunity."
"Once we do this, we can qualify for much more funding. It's very important to us in our efforts to bring new industry to our two industrial parks," Shell said.