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Talks begin on regional airport

CAMDEN &8212; Representatives from South Marengo, Choctaw, Clarke and West Wilcox counties met last week to discuss the possibility of creating a regional airport for West Central Alabama.

According to Frank Dobson, director of development and assistant executive director for Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission where the meeting was held, his office was contacted about a year ago by the state aeronautics board about an airport that would service those areas.

Currently, four airports &8212; Butler Choctaw County, Grove Hill Municipal, Pine Hill Municipal and Linden Municipal &8212; service the west central part of the state. What the state aeronautics board wants to do is determine the feasibility of creating a larger airport to service all of these areas.

A grant with the Federal Aviation Administration will fund 95 percent of the project and the state will fund 2.5 percent. The remaining cost to the participating municipalities would be approximately $250,000, which Dobson said is &8220;next to nothing&8221; for a project of this size.

The next step is for Garver Engineers from Huntsville, an independent firm, to do a feasibility study by looking at each of the existing airports to see if one of them could be turned into a regional airport or to look at land in the area to find a new site for a regional airport.

By February 2009, Dobson said the firm will have a potential list of sites and their findings from the study. Ultimately, however, the representatives of the four counties will be the group to determine the site of the airport, if they decide to go through with the project, he said.

The most recent project like this to be done through an FAA grant was the regional airport in Centre, which cost $6 million and was a 5-year process.

Marengo County Commissioner Jerry Loftin, who represents the west half of the county from Jefferson to the Clarke County line, was at the informational meeting last week. He said an undertaking such as this is something that would benefit the south part of the county greatly.

The group is expected to meet in the coming weeks to further discuss plans for the airport.