County aims to land longer runway

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Rusk County Airport could soon have a longer runway, attracting more air traffic to the Henderson area.

Rusk County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a letter requesting support from area businesses to extend the airport’s runway to 5,000 feet from 4,000 feet.

“Rusk County is blessed with one of the nicest little general aviation airports, I think, in the state of Texas. It’s often the first thing that people, visitors, especially by air, see of Henderson and Rusk County. We’ve tried to make the first impression a good one, always,” said Ron Franks, Rusk County Airport manager.

Franks said the airport was in good shape but the future of the facility and its potential to benefit the county should be considered.

“Looking down the road, the airport should be used, in my opinion, more as an economic tool than it is presently being used now. We’ve got a 4,000 foot runway. Most corporate aircraft require 5,000 feet. We are in the process of going to the state of Texas, TxDOT Aviation, for a 90/10 grant to extend to 5,000 feet.”

A 90/10 match grant from the Texas Department of Transportation would, if approved, require the airport to cover the cost of 10 percent of the extension project. The state would then fund the remainder.

Franks added the Henderson Economic Development Corporation and the city of Henderson had looked into the matter to study the potential benefits the runway extension could have on the facility, the city and the county.

A letter he showed to the commissioners called for Henderson and Rusk County businesses to assist the airport in documenting “operations” at the airport. One take-off or one landing on the runway constitutes one operation; the airport needs to show it draws enough activity to qualify for the state grant. Also, a runway extension to 5,000 feet would allow the facility to sell jet fuel, Franks said.

“I feel that, not only could it be an economic boon to the community and to the area, but it also would ensure, I think, the airport’s survival, in that it brings in both fuel sales which we make money on and hangar and ground lease revenue. I think this is very important to the airport as well as to the county and the city.” Franks said.

Franks asked County Judge Joel Hale to sign the letter and recommended the commissioners approve it.

Pct. 1 Commissioner Bill Hale asked Franks if had gotten an estimate on the project’s cost.

“I know it’s going to take a world of dirt to extend that thing 1,000 feet,” Hale said.

“The estimate right now is between 3 and 5 million dollars,” Franks said. “That not only covers the dirt, which if we do it ourselves we can do it a whole lot cheaper than that, and I’m hoping that we can, and this is not part of this deal, but I’m hoping we can use the dirt work as our 10 percent,” Franks said.

Franks estimated the airport could get the dirt work done for $100,000 but the government estimate of $3 to 5 million included extending the taxiway and ground lighting. He said he had pitched the idea of the airport handling the dirt work as their part of the project to TxDOT, who was receptive to the idea, but nothing was finalized or on paper yet.

Hale mentioned much of the soil at the airport was deep sand and removing the sand to replace it with a firm soil layer would be a major expense. Franks confirmed core tests had shown a layer of sand at the airport to be three feet deep and the layer would have to be removed for the project to continue.

“We need it, no doubt about that,” Hale said. Franks said more details on the project would be forthcoming.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Bennie Whitworth moved to approve the letter; Hale seconded the motion.

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