In this file photo, a flight navigates away from the gate and onto the runway at the Southwest Georgia Regional Airport.
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 year.
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 airport."
"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 said.
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 plan.
"That doesn't sound like a very friendly amendment," Langstaff quipped before the board voted to approve the repayment plan without the interest.