NORWICH – County officials are moving forward with plans to improve the Lt. Warren Eaton Airport, though not without debate over the airport’s worth to the community.
The county approved a $1 million construction project last week that will breathe new life into the airport apron (also known as a tarmac) which airport administrators say will make the it safer for incoming planes and jets.
To front costs, the county has accepted a grant through the Federal Aviation Administration that will cover 90 percent the total costs. The remaining 10 percent will be paid evenly by state and local dollars, putting the county on the hook for $52,000 to be paid from a trust fund that was created specifically for airport maintenance.
But paying any amount – be it through trust fund or tax dollars – was questioned at July’s County Board of Supervisors meeting by Columbus Supervisor Tom Grace. Grace argued that investments in the airport are all the cost without any of the benefit, and that money is simply better spent elsewhere.
“I don’t object to spending public money on public service, but I see this as a private airport,” Grace said. “You can’t just go down there, hop on an airplane, and go anywhere unless you own a plane. It’s a private service. It serves some people very well; but of our 49,500 people, almost 1 percent use it and 99 percent pay for it. It’s public only in the sense of who pays for it.”
“The trust isn’t going to sustain many more million-dollar projects,” he added, citing the county’s acceptance of more than $12 million in FAA grants over the years, each with a 5 percent local share kicked-in by the county. “Eventually, we’re going to tax people directly for a service they can’ t use.”..