Airport making money, generating local support

Airport making money, generating local support
By MARCIA WALKER
Staff Writer

Salem’s airport project is moving along, perhaps not as fast as local leaders would like, but never the less moving forward.

That’s the assessment of Lowell Depoy, airport manager, who provided an update during the Monday, Oct. 1, meeting of the Washington County Council.

“You people have invested in it,” Depoy told members of the council. “That’s why I’m here … we need to communicate. We’re partners … we want to be partners with you people.”

Although it’s technically Salem’s project, the county is contributing $225,000 in Economic Development Income Tax dollars to help with the required matching funds. Two $75,000 payments have already been made.

The bulk of the price tag is being covered by funding from the FAA; cost estimates are as high as $24 million which includes the costs of a 5,000 foot runway and a new terminal building. This year, the FAA is providing $150,000 which Depoy said is being used to cover costs of utility placement for the new airport and a proposed industrial park near it. He said two people have indicated interest in that park.

And Depoy stressed the airport is self-sustaining, with income from fuel sales and rent from both hangars and office space in the terminal building. He predicted fuel sales this year would reach $65,000 and explained income will be used as match for federal and state funds. “Sometime down the road we’re going to need matching funds,” Depoy said. “We’re building that pot now.”

Depoy said the airport now has a mechanic and two part-time flight inspectors. He stressed that he intends for the airport to be service-oriented. “We’re Hoosiers, we’re known for our hospitality, the bar has been raised at our airport,” Depoy said, explaining when a pilot arrives, he offers to chock the wheels of the aircraft, to make phone calls and to arrange transportation.

He stressed that there is local support for the project. Depoy said local businesses came up with $4,400 when he sought donations to cover costs of runway issues and another $1,800 was received when he solicited donations to cover costs of the recent fly-in. “Is that not enough evidence to support a new airway facility?” Depoy asked.

Depoy said the existing airport is too small for today’s needs, with a runway of 2,500 feet. He explained that R.W. Armstrong, the engineering firm working on the project for the city, determined that the most feasible approach was a new facility rather than upgrading the existing airport.

The new airport will allow Salem to provide the same level of service as other airports in the region.

“Why?” He asked. “Accessibility. They don’t have to go to Clark County. Time is money to these corporations.”

“It is of concern to the council, what our funds are being used for,” Councilman David Hoar said. “For (the project) to continue, we need federal funds.”

Hoar said he wished there was something in writing indicating the FAA was comitted to continue providing money for the project.

“They (FAA) have over $1 million invested in it, they’re not going to let the project die,” Depoy responded.

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