DFS City Council discusses the future of the airport project

STATE, CITY AND COUNTY OFFICIALS breaking ground on the DFS Municipal Airport project on May 3, 2022.

By RUBY KEARCE 

THE DeFuniak Springs City Council met for a special meeting on Thursday, Jan. 25, to discuss the future direction of the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport. Interim City Manager Mike Barker opened the meeting by stating that there have been some recent changes to the original plan for the airport. Barker said that there was a recent meeting held among the people involved with the construction of the airport to discuss where everyone stood, while bringing new information from FAA , and information on the design. This special meeting was held to ensure that the council members approve of the desired changes to the initial airport plan. 

DeFuniak Springs Executive Assistant Koby Townsend then approached the council with a presentation, which began with reviewing the identified projects and their funding, the terminal building and runway expansion already having funding secured. While the Taxiway/ Access Road and Hangars 18, 19, 20 and Hangar Apron Repair only have partial funding, and the Hangar adjacent to the new terminal, construction of the training facility, southeast commercial development, paving runway 18/36, and apron around new terminal to runway 9/27 all have no current funding. When referring to the partially funded projects, Townsend also found that the airport has entitlement dollars through the FAA, one portion being $150,000 received every year up to $600,000, and if the money does not get used once it has all been issued, it will be lost. The other portion of the money comes from legislation that was previously passed for a total of $450,000.  

Townsend explained that FDOT Work Plan Dollars is the biggest source of funding that the project currently has. In 2023, $2,562,500 was given for paving Runway 18/36, in 2024 $1,000,000 is set for the airport terminal project, in 2025 $1,500,000 is set for design and construction for hangar development, in 2026 there is $900,000 set for design and construction for hangar development, and in 2027 $300,000 is set for design T-Hangar infrastructure Development. 

Townsend also discussed the Runway 9/27 extension timeline, starting with an environmental assessment of the project that needs to be done as well as some justification documentation for funding, which should take about a year to complete, possibly up to 18 months. This brings the timeline to the beginning of 2025 to begin the design of the project with a hopeful timeline of one year to complete, with construction set to commence in 2026 with another timeline of one year to complete, with 2027 being the estimated completion date.  

Townsend was asked why the environmental assessment has not been completed yet, and responded that in the process of bringing the runway project before the FFA for approval, he learned that there was no environmental assessment completed for the project, information of which he was unaware. Townsend further explained that one was started but was stopped in 2018 due to some data issues. So according to the FFA, the entire process needs to be redone, and it can not be done simultaneously with the design portion. 

Townsend moved on to explain that the Triumph application requires for the two industrial sites to be recertified by Florida Power & Light, and Walton County Economic Development Alliance’s Executive Director Uriah Matthews is helping with the certification process that is set to begin in February as well as the property acquisitions west of Gene Hurley Park that are needed to reduce road relocation cost and increase the size of Industrial Site A. These properties can be acquired by either ARPA funds, or be tied into the Triumph request. 

Townsend stated that they are seeking to move some aspects of the initial Runway Extension Project to the Triumph application, i.e., the Gene Hurley Road Relocation and Taxiway Connector. This would effectively reduce the runway extension project cost as well as help if FDOT does not find justification for the project. If Triumph decides to deny those aspects would then be reintroduced into the Runway Extension Project. 

Townsend moved on to discuss the projects that already have funding, in order to receive direction for those projects. The Terminal, Parking Lot, Access Roads, and a portion of the apron have been bid and the construction has commenced already, while the other portions of the project either did not have funding yet or were over-bid on at that time. Townsend requested a sketch of what it would cost to complete the apron, build a hangar, and an additional fuel farm. As for funding, Liberty Partners have filed for a Federal Appropriation for $1,100,000 for the completion of the apron, with an estimated $1,00,000 left over in ARPA funds from Terminal Development, and FDOT Fiscal Year 25 Work Plan Dollars totaling $1,500,000. Townsend believes that those finds combined should be sufficient for this portion of the project. 

Next Townsend addressed the Taxi/ Access Road and Hangars 18, 19, and 20 development, handing the floor to James Swensky with Liberty Partners to further explain the work done on the $1.8 Million Job Growth Grant Fund (JGGF) application. Swensky proposed building Hangars 18 through 20 in order to bring in both Advanced Manufacturing and information technology jobs. A lot of the application is the same information within a Triumph application just rephrased for a Job Growth Grant fund. This application allows for a 10-year window of time to develop job growth. The funding for this project includes $1,000,000 appropriation, and $1,801,550 to come pending the submission of the JGGF.  If the initial cost for this project is too large it can be broken down into phases. 

The final project presented was the rehabilitation of the asphalt on the apron around the existing T hangars and the two corporate hangars closest to the FPO. It is currently in bad shape and holds water; it is estimated that the total cost for this project will be $1,000,000. The FAA will fund the design, but they need to know that there are dollars committed for the next year to do the construction. This caused the project to be held back a year with the hopes of FAA funding the design portion of the project. So in the fiscal year 2026, using the $900,000 assigned for FY 2026, if the money is not needed in other areas of the project. 

This brought Townsend to final topics for discussion, the first of which was whether to keep or discontinue the dirt runway 18/36. It is mainly used for contractors as well as the military using it on occasion, which does not bring in revenue. There is also an issue that users have with sand flying up when using the space. Some council members feel it would be better suited for land leases rather than what it is currently being used for. The discussion then moved on to the FBO office space. There is a lot of interest in renting the office space once it has been cleared out. So a decision will need to be made as to whether the city would like to rent the building or if they would like to see it go.  A council member asked what the current maintenance of the property consists of. There have been small issues with plumbing due to the age of the building, but there is assurance that it would rent. Townsend suggested having it evaluated once the current occupants leave to make sure it would be worth the cost of maintenance, then move on from there. 

Discussion then moved to the “motionable” items, the first of which was passed, to allow for Liberty Partners to continue the pursuit for the JGGF.  A motion then passed to approve the Triumph Sketch and to begin the process of amending the current Triumph application. The next motion passed was to authorize the DFS Interim City Manager to begin seeking identified property acquisitions. Next passed was a motion to approve of Barge Design Solutions Runway 9/27 environmental assessment task order. A motion was then passed to approve of the Airport Terminal Phase Two Development Project and allow staff to bring back a detailed plan. Another motion passed to approve the project priority ranking that is needed for FFA/FDOT/ and JACIP, with Council member Amy Heavilin being the only nay vote for all the motions brought before the council. There was also a motion passed to proceed with the ground leases and corporate hangar infrastructure. An additional motion was made to task the staff and engineer to come back before the council with a plan to maximize hangar pad rental sites, privately constructed hangars using the area of the current north south runway and adjacent thereto; it was passed, with Heavilin again voting nay.