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City urged to invest in airport
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A group of businessmen and developers is strongly petitioning the Covington City Council to invest funds in the development of the Covington Municipal Airport.

With the 2006 extension of the airport's runway from 4,200 feet to 5,500 feet and with the summer acquisition of 13 acres of land from Nisshinbo Automotive Manufacturing Inc. - which connects the airport to 72 acres of IDA-owned land south of the airport - the group believes the airport is poised for further development.

At last Monday night's council meeting, Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby, Newton County Industrial Authority member Frank Turner Jr., IDA Chairman Rob Fowler and Conyers/Rockdale Economic Development Council Inc. Board Member Roland Vaughn gave a presentation to the council on the merits of developing the airport.

"The city that invests in itself will attract other investors to invest their money in the city," Boothby told the council. "When they see communities invest in themselves they know that they won't be on a limb by themselves."

At a recent National Business Aviation Association conference, which the chamber attended along with members of the Covington Airport Advisory Committee, Boothby said the group received 10 qualified leads from businesses and organizations interested in the airport.

 The group presented to the council a conceptual-master plan for the development of the airport.

The plan depicted a road connecting the existing hangars and runway located on the northern side of the airport to IDA land at the southern end. The plan depicted several rows of hangars built on the IDA land.

"You own the only airport in Metro Atlanta that is adjacent to an interstate 35 miles away from Atlanta that has land adjacent to it," Vaughn told the council.

Vaughn said the group was recommending the airport be developed in phases. New hangars should be compatible and comparable to the facilities already built on the north side of the airport he said.

Vaughn speculated that educational facilities (for flight lessons) and maintenance facilities would be built on the southern side of the airport.

"However you structure this, it's to continue the development that you've built with the lengthening of the runway," Vaughn said.

Covington Mayor Sam Ramsey - a strong proponent of the development of the airport - said it was necessary for the city to first run water, sewer and a second road to the airport before any further development could take place.

 Ramsey is in favor of spending $5 million of the proceeds from the sale of Covington Cable on the development of the airport. Ramsey wants the city to spend $2.8 million to purchase the 85 acres from the IDA. He has estimated it will cost the city $2.2 million to extend water and sewer services to those 85 acres.

By purchasing the land from the IDA, Ramsey said the city would also be putting funds back into the coffers of the IDA, which would otherwise be broke by 2009 when dues paid by SKC to the IDA expire.

"We got people knocking on the door but we don't have anything to offer them," Ramsey said.

Fowler recommended that the council first pay off the IDA debt and pave a second road to the airport.

City Manager Steve Horton commented to the group that the city was in the "throws of a budget work session" and was also in the process of updating its Capital Improvement Plan.

"We need some real input on what direction this is going fairly quick," Horton said.

Council members Roger Tingler and Ocie Franklin have previously indicated support of spending funds from the cable sale on developing the airport. At a candidate forum on Tuesday night councilman Mike Whatley said he wasn't in any hurry to see the funds from the cable sale spent. Council member Janet Goodman also has expressed reservations on using the cable proceeds to develop the airport.