DENMARK TOWNSHIP — A sunny sky perfect for flying greeted dozens of area business and government leaders as they celebrated the groundbreaking for a new runway at Northeast Ohio Regional Airport.
The new runway, with a total price tag of $9.5 million, will be 703 feet longer than the old runway and will feature an upgraded lighting system, said Dwight Bowden, president of the Ashtabula County Airport Authority, who has worked on the project for many years.
“We’ve cleared every hurdle the Federal Aviation Administration has put in our way,” he said.
One of the biggest challenges was the distance needed surrounding the airport for new federal safe runway regulations. He said environmental regulations made meeting those requirements a challenge, but a $257,000 environmental study allowed the issues to be met.
The direction of the runway had to be slightly altered to accommodate adjacent wetlands, Bowden said. The authority is still awaiting approval of an amended Environmental Protection Agency permit before the end of the month, one that has been in the works for years.
The authority is also working on buying up several parcels adjacent to the construction site. One deal has been finalized and another is in negotiations, Bowden said. Those issues were discussed at an airport authority meeting immediately following the ceremony.
Bowden said the project goes back even further for former authority chairman Dave Price, who had been involved in planning. David Weir, Ashtabula County engineer in 1975, reflected on an airport groundbreaking 40 years ago, as the airport began to take shape.
“When designing public works it takes so long to get something started,” he said.
One of the important reasons to keep a local airport operational is the ability to bring larger planes to the county; especially to meet the needs of area industry, Bowden said.
“By maintaining this airport, we provide the incentives (for companies) to remain here,” he said.
Bowden said it was important to maintain an C-II — or jet-capable — runway status that allows larger craft to land at the airport.
A downgrade was being considered last year, which would mean it would only be fit for propeller or piston-based aircraft, under the guidelines of the state’s 2014 airport focus study. That year, the authority performed a traffic forecast that indicated the airport should keep its classification.
Currently, the airport runway is rated for aircraft up to a gross weight of 60,000 pounds, Bowden said, and the new runway bumps that rating up to 90,000 pounds, depending on landing gear configuration.
Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony took place near an “advanced” jet that had been landed and taxied out at the airport — it was an example of the type of craft the authority would like to draw.
“If the runway were to be taken down to a ‘B’ classification, like it was suggested, there’d be no way we could support an aircraft like the one that was out there today,” Bowden said, adding the new runway “projects the airport into the future at least 15 years.”
Bowden credited cooperation between area elected leaders, government agencies and the business community for making the project a reality.
“This is a great day for Ashtabula County because of the inter-linkage of infrastructure and economic development,” said State Rep. John Patterson, D-Jefferson.
The airport is used by private pilots and the commercial opportunities are huge because of the proximity to major transportation routes and the quality of the airport, he said, describing it as a “jewel.”
After a weather delay earlier this month, work was rescheduled to begin July 27, Bowden said. Kapalin Engineering of LaGrange was contracted for the first two phases of construction, drainage relocation and grading.
Ashtabula County commissioners are expected to approve the airport’s zoning resolution during a July 21 meeting. Commissioner Casey Kozlowski said he was excited about the project.
“We view this as a tool in our economic development tool box,” he said.