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Airport to buy 210 acres for runway

WINDER - A $7.5 million purchase of 210 acres adjoining the Northeast Georgia Regional Airport will give the airport the longer runway and industrial development space Barrow County officials have envisioned.

It will also put the airport back in bond debt.

The Winder-Barrow Industrial Development Authority will purchase the Segers family estate on behalf of Barrow County and develop the acreage, said County Commissioner Billy Parks, former airport authority member. Barrow County will issue revenue or general obligation bonds to pay for it.

"The cost fee structure of the bonds is not yet determined, but we prefer bonds with a three-year pay off without penalty," said Chief Administrator Keith Lee.

The property is located at the end of the runway on Ga. Highway 82. The purchase is pursuant to a contract that includes a

90-day due diligent and inspection period that allows Barrow County and airport officials to do environmental studies that ensure the property meets Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

The airport's capital improvement plan calls for lengthening the 5,500-foot-runway to 7,000 feet. Parks said an extended runway could balance the airport's budget and free tax dollars.

"The longer runway could attract corporate jets, which would bring more business to the county," Parks said. "It could offset the budget shortfall and free up that money the county is subsidizing and the county would spend the moneya for something else. We wouldn't have to extend those taxes to property owners."

At present the airport spends more money than it generates. Its 2007 operating budget is $1.3 million with its revenue at $1.2 million, totaling an estimated $87,000 shortfall, which the county subsidizes. The airport has one payment left of $384,000 on a 20-year bond for hangar construction.

The purchase will give the airport the 85 acres needed to extend the runway, as well as a clear and safety zone. The remaining 125 acres will be used for aviation-related industrial development.

"We plan to sell the industrial property to pay off the bonds, but leasing would be an option if it pays the bond debt," Lee said.

Rather than being landlocked like some metro airports, the wide expanse could help turn the Northeast Georgia Regional Airport into the economic powerhouse that Barrow County officials envision.