Linden considers regional airport

Published 10:32 pm Thursday, December 4, 2008

Linden is one of four Black Belt cities being considered for the location of a new regional airport.

Scott Lynn, who has been representing Linden in planning meetings with the Alabama Bureau of Aeronautics, and representatives of the other cities being considered, reported to the Linden City Council the chances for Linden has in securing the airport.

“About a year ago, the Alabama Bureau of Aeronautics conducted a study that showed there is a big gap in the airport coverage in this part of the state,” Lynn told the council Thursday night. “A regional airport in the this are would fill that gap, so they have been looking at areas within south Marengo County, Clarke, Choctaw and west Wilcox counties.”

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Mostly the Federal Aviation Administration and the state would fund the new airport. The municipalities who wanted to form a partnership to maintain the airport would split the remaining 2.5 percent.

Lynn told the council that the goal would be to have the facility centrally placed so the participating cities would be within a thirty-mile drive from it. It will include a 5000 foot runway with fuel and support facilities.

The cities under consideration each have an existing airstrip.

Linden’s Freddie Jones Field, built in 1966, has been closed since 2000 and in desperate need of repairs, including a complete asphalt overlay. Grove Hill and Pine Hill, each have small airstrips. Butler has a well-maintained airport that is in regular use.

“Butler is the only one out of all four that has a current airport license,” said Lynn.

The center of the area designated to place the airport within lies near Dixon Mills. Linden is situated on the northern edge of the area, with Pine Hill and Grove Hill on the southern end. Butler lies on the eastern edge.

Lynn, along with Marengo County Economic Development Director Debra Fox, attended a Nov 5 planning meeting. They indicated Linden’s chances of getting the airport were not great, especially if Pine Hill and Grove Hill were to agree to close their airports in support of a new regional airport in nearby Thomasville, which representatives from both airports have indicated they would be willing to do.

“I felt at the meeting their would be other considerations other than centralized location being considered, such as access to a four-lane highway and other economic development issues,” said Fox.

Lynn told the board they could continue to participate in the planning process and decide later if they wanted to financially support a regional airport, wherever it was placed. They could also begin the strategic planning process of making the repairs to the Freddie Jones Field in hopes of getting a new license and possibility seek grants and other sources of funding to make additional improvements, or they could permanently close the airstrip, abandon the chances of reopening the airport and us the airport at Demopolis.

Linden Mayor Mitzi Gates told the council her recommendation is to continued through at least one more meeting in the regional airport planning process, but begin seeking other information about what grants may be available to reopen Linden’s airstrip.

“Economically, this is not the right time to discuss putting money up for fixing the airport, but we can begin the process of seeing what it will take,” said Gates. “Reopening it would certainly be an incentive for any industry wanting to relocate here.”