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"Georgia city officials asked to finance airport tower"

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

City asked to finance airport tower
By Carlton Fletcher 
The Albany (GA) Herald

#ALBANY, Ga. -- Dr. Bill Mayher, the chairman of the Albany-Dougherty
Aviation Commission, told Albany city commissioners Tuesday morning cost for
the city to run operations of the air traffic control tower at the Southwest
Georgia Regional Airport would come in at around a half-million dollars a

Mayher laid out two available options in regards to the control tower, which
is set to be closed by the Federal Aviation Administration on May 5, for
commissioners to consider:

-- The city can take over operations and maintenance -- plus accompanying
costs -- of the tower;

-- The city can let the facility become what Mayher called an "uncontrolled

"My recommendation is that we find the money to keep the tower open," Mayher
told the board. "Not long after the federal government shuts the tower down,
they'll come in and take their equipment from the tower, and once it's gone,
it's gone. I don't think we'd get it back.

"They have told us, though, that if we take over operations of the tower,
they will allow us to continue using their equipment."

The Catch 22 of the situation was not lost on commissioners.

"It's pretty certain that if we do decide to fund (tower operations), it's
not going to be a one-time thing," Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike
said. "If we come up with the (emergency) funding, the federal government is
not likely to resume funding at some future point."

Ward V Commissioner Bob Langstaff said losing the tower, which Mayher said
could cause delays that jeopardize such vital airport traffic as UPS
shipments, would have a serious economic development impact on the city.

"If we don't spend the money to keep the tower, we will be one step down
from Valdosta (which funds operations of the air traffic tower at its
municipal airport)," Langstaff said. "Plus, I'd hate to spend all that money
on building a new terminal and not get the usage."

City Manager James Taylor said preliminary estimates show operation of the
air traffic control tower would cost between $400,000 and $500,000 yearly.
He said any funding would have to come from city reserves.

"It's getting to the point where we almost don't have an option," Ward II
Commissioner Ivey Hines said.

The Southwest Georgia Regional Airport tower is one of 148 across the
country that is being shut down by the FAA as a byproduct of sequestration.

Also at Tuesday's work session, Langstaff revealed that he'd been approached
by local contractor LRA Constructors with a plan that would allow for a much
more involved design for a multimodal transit site proposed for the current
Trailways bus station/Destiny Travel facility that also houses the city's
public transportation operations.

During Assistant City Manager Wes Smith's update on the now three sites that
are being considered for the multimodal transit station, Langstaff said a
private contractor had indicated it could do more with the $3.5 million in
expected funding than consultant Wendel Companies was suggesting. When talk
of the private contractor persisted, Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell
asked, "Who is this contractor y'all keep talking about?"

Langstaff said officials with LRA had contacted him saying they had a design
that would allow more to be done with the existing facility than consultants
were indicating.

"LRA is saying they can do more at that site; I don't know who to believe,"
Langstaff said.

That led Pike to suggest that the consultant had not done an adequate job in
presenting available options to the commission.

"They should bring a proposal on how to best make each site work," Pike

Taylor answered: "No, sir. To beat (Wendel) up for something they were not
hired to do is not fair. What you're asking is not part of what the company
was tasked with doing. You figure out what it is you'd like the company to
do, and I'll tell them."

Smith said he plans to conduct another public hearing on the multimodal site
at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Also at the meeting, the commission gave non-binding approval to a request
by Chehaw Park officials for a repayment plan on the $150,000 balance of a
note the park owes the city. The plan calls for the wild animal park
authority to pay $2,000 a month beginning in July.

Ward IV Commissioner Roger Marietta said that Chehaw should be treated the
same as Flint RiverQuarium officials had been when aquarium representatives
requested funding and were asked that financial records and employee
information be submitted to the commission before it takes a binding vote on
the matter April 23.

Marietta then offered a "friendly amendment" to the motion to approve the
repayment plan, asking that 8.5 percent in interest that should have kicked
in when the park was unable to pay the note by December be added to the

"That doesn't sound like a very friendly amendment," Langstaff quipped
before the board voted to approve the repayment plan without the interest.

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