Time to fly?

Airport study process unveiled

Kile Brewer
Posted 2/7/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – By the end of the year, there should be a clear picture as to whether or not an airport will be built at Reynolds Industrial Park.

According to a presentation at the Green …

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Time to fly?

Airport study process unveiled

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – By the end of the year, there should be a clear picture as to whether or not an airport will be built at Reynolds Industrial Park.

According to a presentation at the Green Cove Springs City Council Tuesday evening, the feasibility study is on the cusp of Phase 1, with the project engineer Andrew Holesko, the vice president and national director of Aviation Services at Passero Associates, estimating six to nine months until the study is complete.

“We’re just starting this study, we do not have any answers to any of the questions that some of you might have,” Holesko said.

After the presentation Feb. 6, Holesko and Reynolds President Ted McGowan said they will also give the same presentation to the Clay County Board of County Commissioners before beginning the study process.

“We do want to consider whatever our options are in the future: private, municipal, sell, close it down, expand,” McGowan said.

The study will be four-tiered and include four meetings of an appointed Planning Advisory Committee starting each of the phases. After each phase, representatives will return to the City and BCC meetings to present their findings before heading into the next step of the process. Two representatives from both the Green Cove City Council and BCC will be included on the 10-person PAC, in addition to local aviators and those with interests in a new airport in Clay County.

The study will start small and examine the need for an airport and forecasted demand for aviation in the surrounding area. Next, they would look into what kinds of facilities would be planned to support the estimated demand for services at the airport and how those services would be paid for. Eventually, they will work through federal regulations, both environmental and aviation, as well as examine options for who would own and manage the airport upon its completion.

So far, Holesko noted that there are four options for the potential ownership and management of the theoretical airport – the City of Green Cove Springs, the Clay County Board of Commissioners, another outside entity, or retained ownership by Clay County Port.

Once this decision has been reached, the port will make a decision to hold on to the property or sell, and whether or not the airport would be a feasible option for the property, and then present that decision publicly.

Though the whole process seems clear, there were concerns from all members of the City Council about the potential impact of an airport in their riverside community.

“There’s an argument to be made that there’s been money left on the table, and, actually, services and infrastructure that have been provided over a span of time that we’ve done with the anticipation [that Reynolds would become something other than an airport],” said council member Van Royal. “We’ve seen numbers on some pretty nice things and opportunities, yacht basins, high-rises, all of which we’ve put into plans when we’ve talked about expansion.”

According to Royal, the city has accommodated the Port for decades, so that when they would move on any of these development plans, they would be able to. However, Royal said the city never expected an airport.

In addition to commenting on the potential effect on the city’s tax base, Royal mentioned the existing city airport in Keystone Heights, which he said would be a better option for the type of airport being considered at Reynolds.

“If the idea is that this small community is going to take one for the team, I’m not doing that, not quietly,” Royal said. “Too many people have worked for too long to build this little town up.”

Council members Steven Kelley and Pam Lewis shared the same sentiments, noting concerns that an airport could prevent future development south of downtown and along the river near Reynolds.

“If you drive around airports in small communities, there’s a lot of warehouse type properties, and they’re not beautiful homes, we have beautiful homes and beautiful neighborhoods – it affects quality of life,” Lewis said. “There are a lot of things we have to take into consideration but quality of life is probably the number one thing.”

As the city grows, the council will continue to see plans for housing developments, but noted that other airports of similar size have no such development in the area.

City Manager Danielle Judd asked Holesko and McGowan if they have even looked at how much land they have that would not be considered wetlands and whether or not that would be enough to support an airport.

After members of the council spoke on why they thought an airport would not be in the best interest of the city, Holesko assured them that the study is not yet complete and would be starting with a blank page at the first meeting of the PAC.

“I don’t think we’re here with the expectation that the study is going to come back as not feasible,” said Mayor Mitch Timberlake. “I’ve heard more on this than I heard on the drag strip when it was out there, people calling saying, ‘You need to shut this down, we don’t want it.’"

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