The Elizabeth City Regional Airport will ask the U.S. Coast Guard for a long-term lease of Base Elizabeth City's secondary runway, Airport Manager Gordon Rowell reported Monday.
The lease is a step to secure state funding to reopen the runway for general aviation, Rowell said in remarks to Pasquotank County commissioners.
The airport's secondary runway, 1-19, has been in bad shape for years and is currently unusable. Since 2014, the airport has been working to convince the NC Department of Transportation and the Coast Guard to repair it. Airport officials have said it will attract more private pilots to the airport because the runway runs at a different angle than the primary runway, offering an option to avoid crosswinds hazardous to small aircraft. They also argue it will help the Coast Guard by providing it a back-up runway for its primary runway, 10-28.
The state wants the lease because the Coast Guard owns the runway, not the airport, Rowell explained. That means state officials want assurances that, if they invest in a federal asset, the Coast Guard will guarantee the airport can use it. The lease would probably be for around 20 years, Rowell said.
Rowell said the airport is working with its engineering firm, Parrish and Partners, and DOT to submit a lease request to the Coast Guard in the next few weeks. He said it's not clear when the Coast Guard might approve the lease.
Rowell said the state is open to investing $1.5 million to $5 million in the runway. Notably, Gov. Pat McCrory committed two years ago to funding half of a $10 million overhaul of 1-19 so Coast Guard aircraft could also use the aircraft.
Asked if the state's position or funding commitments had changed since then, Rowell said he didn't know. He noted he's only been airport manager for about two months. Rowell started Nov. 1, replacing Dion Viventi.
In a separate interview, Airport Board Chairman Don Parks said the state is still committed to restoring the runway. However, he said the airport and DOT want to start work on the runway sooner than the Coast Guard does.
Parks said the Coast Guard is still open to investing in the runway, but has determined it's not “mission critical.” It could be years before the Coast Guard provides funding for 1-19, he said.
That's too long, he said, citing the economic benefits of opening the runway. He also noted he hoped to have the lease approved in the first quarter of 2017.
Depending on how much funding the state provides, Parks also said the airport may reopen a narrow strip of 1-19. The runway is about 150 feet wide, but only half that width may be repaired at first. That would at least get small aircraft using it until more funding's available, he said.