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While Tuesday’s Quorum Court session may have been focused on Baxter County Judge Pendergrass and his well-deserved retirement, the court still moved forward with its important business.
The biggest agenda item outside of the county’s 2023 budget was the court’s appropriation of $302,000 to purchase 61 acres south of the Baxter County Airport.
The Federal Aviation Administration has notified the county of serious obstructions at the south end of the airport’s runway. The tree line in that area has grown too high and if the area is not cleared the FAA may be forced to shut down the entirety of the airport or significant portions of the runway.
During its November budget committee meeting, members of the court agreed that the best step forward would be to purchase the land so that work crews could gain access to, and maintain, the land full-time. The land purchase will also benefit the airport’s future expansion attempts.
The court agreed to $302,000 for the land purchase, with $250,000 going toward the county’s initial offer. The leftover money can potentially be used for negotiations with the landowner or to cover legal fees if the county decides to use eminent domain to take over the property.
The use of eminent domain was discussed during that meeting after it was revealed that the county initially was having difficulties in getting in touch with the property owner. Pendergrass confirmed that negotiations were ongoing during Tuesday night’s court session.
According to the county assessor’s office, the land is worth a little over $4,300 per acre.
While the main reason for the land purchase is FFA compliance, the court did note that the land may be used for ongoing expansion plans of Baxter County’s only airport.
Earlier in July, the Baxter County Airport asked members of the court to begin thinking about setting aside money for their share of the costs to expand the airport’s runways after receiving a promise of financial support from the Federal Aviation Administration.
The upgrade project would see the airport’s runway receive a 1000-foot extension and a 1500-foot displacement, allowing the airport to receive commercial flights again.
The cost of the expansion project will run between $24-26 million, with roughly 90% of the costs being covered by the federal government. The remaining costs will be split between the state, the county, and various grant programs.
If the Baxter County Quorum Court agrees to invest in the airport’s expansion, taxpayers can expect to be on the hook for anywhere between $1.2-1.8 million, or roughly 5% of the project’s cost.
During his presentation to the court in July, Dr. Stephen Vester of the Baxter County Airport Commission said that the airport had seen an uptick in traffic over the past few years, with this year’s July 4th weekend breaking records in the amount of traffic the airport has received since its conception.
Vester also confirmed that the airport receives between three to four phone calls daily from people requesting commercial flights in and out of Baxter County.
According to the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism, the Baxter County Airport brings in around $5-9 million annually to the county.
Baxter County Airport currently has 74 aircraft registered with the airport, with an additional 35 waiting for hangar space.
While presenting, Vester said the airport is currently looking for ways to expand its hangar space and increase the ability to train new pilots at the airport to help with the national pilot shortage.
At the time there were roughly 30-40 students waiting in the wings to be trained at the airport.
In other news, the court handled its regular reimbursements to the Baxter County Sheriff’s Office, as well as passed ordinances appropriating $2,377 for Baxter County Juvenile Services. The court also re-appropriated $25,000 to the services budget.
The court also appropriated $12,811 in grant money for the Cotter/Gassville Rural Fire Protection District.