More than a decade after it was first considered, ground broke this afternoon on a 5,500-foot runway at the Flagler County Executive Airport, a year-long project that will allow larger corporate jets to use the airport while also creating more space for construction at the north end of the property, which is built out. County government considers both objectives key in fomenting more economic activity through an airport that over the past six years has become the single-most successful business hub.
The new runway Halifax Paving will build over the next 350 days, employing 20 to 30 people during that span, will replace an existing runway that falls just short of the 5,000-foot threshold, thus limiting the sort of jets that may use the airport. With the new runway, “I could land a 737 here if we had to,” Airport Director Roy Sieger said. Not that he’ll have to: traffic will still be limited to general aviation rather than commercial airliners.
The existing runway will be milled and repaved as a taxiway when the new one is finished. The new runway will be 100 feet wide and will consists of a base of 8 inches of lime rock and 4 inches of asphalt. The project also entails building a 760-foot culvert. About 90 percent of the The $12.1 million project is underwritten by the Federal Aviation Administration, with the Department of Transportation also paying a share, and 2 percent paid out of the airport’s fund. None of the money, County Administrator Craig Coffey said, involves county property tax revenue, sales tax or gas tax revenue. The $12.1 million is only the construction cost. The county also spent $1.9 million to acquire 117 acres, $1.3 million to mitigate for wetlands (that is, buy and protect wetlands elsewhere to replace wetlands it will destroy to build the runway), and $700,000 to design the project.
“This is the single largest project that the airport has ever done,” Sieger said, at least in the eight years that he’s been there. The airport during that span has seen a total of $25 million in projects. This one will raise that total to $37 million, Sieger said.
The first part of the project, which involves 183 acres, entails cutting down trees from dozens of acres at the east and west ends of the runway. A timbering company was hired for the job and the timber has already been sold for about $30,000.
Beyond the runway, the project “is going to open up a whole new development area potentially,” Coffey said. “We’re built out on this side of the runway,” he said, pointing to the north end, where several businesses have filled up almost every square foot of available space in several buildings. “It’s going to open up a whole bunch of acreage on the north side.” The initial aim is to add additional hangar space.
The county organized today’s ceremonial groundbreaking the way local governments usually do at the start of infrastructure projects, with officials and business leaders invited to attend the proceedings under a tent then take part in the shoveling of dirt. In this case, Sieger had cleverly positioned the tent squarely in the middle of the imaginary line that will become the center line of the new runway, which those in attendance could nevertheless picture through a dozen or so stakes planted at distant intervals, up and down the grassy ground that will become the runway.
County commissioners past and present (among them ex-commissioners Barbara Revels, fresh from being appointed this morning to the county’s economic development advisory board, and George Hanns), were present, as was a Flagler Beach city commissioner and members of the business community, including Jimmy Millhollin, the chairman of the Flagler Chamber of Commerce board. But no officials from Palm Coast government were present.