GREEN COVE SPRINGS – By the end of this month, Clay Port President Ted McGowan and his advisors at Passero Associates will have started on the airport feasibility study to examine the potential for …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – By the end of this month, Clay Port President Ted McGowan and his advisors at Passero Associates will have started on the airport feasibility study to examine the potential for establishing an airport at Reynolds Industrial Park.
During their Feb. 27 meeting, the Clay County Board of County Commissioners heard a presentation similar to the one given at the first February meeting of the Green Cove Springs City Council.
Andrew Holesko, Passero’s national director of aviation, again accompanied McGowan to the podium and explained their multi-step process for determining feasibility. He explained the study’s use of an advisory committee that would be made up of representatives from both the BCC and Green Cove Springs City Council as well as relevant business owners from around the county.
Before the presentation, McGowan explained that the commissioners could ask questions directly after, but that the men might not have exact answers for them yet because the study hasn’t quite started yet. The presentations were built in as part of the process with regular return trips to the governing bodies throughout the process to provide updated information.
“The reason we don’t have answers for you today is because the feasibility study is not done,” Holesko said. “We’re going to be standing here in front of you four more times [before the study is over].”
Following the brief overview of what will take place during the study, commissioners took a moment to either make remarks and ask basic questions they might have before the public had a chance to speak on the topic.
“For me, there’s a heavy focus on the ability to put industrial development around the airport and bring more jobs to Clay County,” said Commissioner Wayne Bolla.
Bolla went on to say that he had heard from developers that there is nowhere left to put up businesses zoned as industrial, and according to him, this would be a good spot.
“This is certainly a major opportunity for the county to draw high wage jobs to that area,” he said. “That’s a really good fit for a lot of high impact jobs coming into Clay County.”
Other members of the board chose not to make any specific comments, instead praising the depth of the study and the men’s guarantee of transparency throughout the process.
Commissioner Gayward Hendry asked when the first meeting of the advisory committee would be held and Holesko said they had not set an exact date but that it would be during the month of March. The team at Passero has planned to have the study completed within about six months. BCC Chair Gavin Rollins then closed out commissioner comments before turning it over to the public for discussion.
“Sounds like this is the beginning of a process that will take place,” Rollins said. “Thank you for making an effort to be inclusive and allow all parties to give input and feedback.”
Three members of the Green Cove Springs City Council comprised the entirety of the public comments, including council members Van Royal, Pam Lewis and Mayor Mitch Timberlake. Members of city council have opposed the idea of an airport in their city since the first mention of the idea last year, and have expressed this opinion in front of the BCC at a previous meeting.
Royal was the first to take the microphone and talked about the future of Green Cove Springs.
“There’s development happening, businesses coming in, residents coming in,” Royal said. “People are wanting to be here.”
He said an airport and boom of industrial development that close to the city center would gut property values and drive developers and home builders away in favor of communities that don’t have air traffic. Using examples of airports in surrounding communities, Royal said high-end housing and nice restaurants do not develop near local and regional airports. He said that the county should add industrial zoning to areas in the undeveloped southern portion of the county or west on State Highway 16 if they are interested in seeing growth in those types of businesses.
Lewis took the podium next and said that anything other than a small private airport where people could rent a condo and store their airplane or boat would be detrimental to the “feel” of their riverfront city.
“A municipal airport is a terrible waste of our beautiful waterfront property,” Lewis said. “I picture people using our river like they do every day without regularly scheduled flights going over. There are plenty of airports.”
Timberlake spoke last, moving on from the financial and aesthetic impact of the proposed airport on the city to the impact on the city’s current residents.
“We have Keystone [Heights] that’s begging for an airport, and we would suggest that to be the area to look at,” Timberlake said. “This issue, even more so than the dragstrip, has elicited more phone calls to me saying ‘please don’t do this to where we live.’”