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Airport authority touched upon

Buckingham County District Four Supervisor Morgan Dunnavant used the “Other Board Matters” portion of the Nov. 13 Buckingham Board of Supervisors meeting to discuss with the rest of the board the concept of entering into an airport authority for the Farmville Regional Airport by partnering with surrounding counties and the Town of Farmville. A committee has been formed by Buckingham County to investigate such future possibilities.

Morgan Dunnavant

Dunnavant began his address to the board by bringing attention to the October issue of the National Association of Counties magazine’s front page article titled “Feds award nearly $1 billion in airport infrastructure grants.”

The opening paragraph of the article states “On September 23, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced awards of $968 million in airport infrastructure grants to more than 350 airports, many of which are county owned and operated. This most recent round of funding marks the fifth dispersal of $3.18 billion in total funds for AIP (airport improvement program) in FY 2019. Of the airports receiving funding, the majority serve rural communities.”

“Now we have a unique opportunity before us,” stated Dunnavant to the rest of the board. “There is an economic engine that is currently asleep, but it’s getting ready to wake up. The Farmville Regional Airport actually adjoins Buckingham County in its western property line. The Town of Farmville that currently administers oversight of the airport individually has had a recent change in its own management and is now interested with partnering with all three counties, Buckingham, Cumberland and Prince Edward, to enter into an airport authority which would be very similar to the partnership that we are currently involved in with the Piedmont Regional Jail.”

He continued, “Farmville has thus far this year received almost $4 million in Federal Administration Aviation Infrastructure Improvement grants … Many more millions of dollars are on the slate to come to the Farmville Regional Airport with a local match of only 2%.”

“So we should join them to help them grow, and we would grow with them,” added Dunnavant. “I have been working for this potential for many years, long before I was elected to this board. It just so happens that as the stars came into alignment, that this economic development ground floor opportunity has opened up, that I didn’t get the votes to come back for another term. But I have truly always had the best interest of the Buckingham County Citizens in mind in every decision I’ve made.”

He continued, “An old saying is very true. ‘Opportunity knocks softly and only once.’ The question is, are we going to answer the door? Because it’s knocking now.”

Dunnavant followed his statements with a request that the board consider establishing an investigative committee to research and look into the possibility of entering into a regional airport partnership.

A motion was made and seconded to explore the options for a regional airport authority as presented by Dunnavant. Although no members of the board were officially selected to serve on the committee, appointments are expected to be made during the December board meeting.

In an interview with The Herald on Dec. 4 Dunnavant cited that he had met with interim Town Manager of Farmville Dr. C. Scott Davis and Farmville Mayor David E. Whitus several months ago and that the group had discussed the airport subject. “Both of them are very receptive to the idea of an airport authority, and that’s all we’re talking about. Nobody’s making a commitment right now. It’s simply an investigation for willingness from local players.”

Dunnavant stated that he additionally met with Cumberland County Administrator Don Unmussig and that he too seemed open to the concept. “I have no problem with working on an exploratory group to see if this is a viable opportunity for Cumberland,” Unmussig stated to The Herald.

Dunnavant also stated that he reached out to Prince Edward County board members Jim Wilck and David Emert, who he believed were also receptive to the idea.

During his interview, Dunnavant said that he believed an airport authority would allow the counties to come together in order to provide preservation, promotion and financial stability to Farmville Regional Airport, adding that provided stability would give the airport more customers.

“The airport is an economic engine, and the airport authority is a group that’s entrusted to make it run for the objective that the participants put it out there for,” Dunnavant explained.

“I’ve got the experience and the energy to look into this potential and I’m going to do it and report back, and hopefully the other players will embrace the idea as well and we can come up with an opportunity that everybody can feel comfortable with … It’s got the potential to be a wonderful thing.”

Whitus stated that the Farmville Town Council has had no official discussion of an airport authority, and although some individuals have mentioned the idea in the past there is currently no ongoing discussion. When asked if he believed the town would be open to such a partnership in the future Whitus added, “The airport, while owned by the Town of Farmville, is a community asset. We always welcome contributions from other partners.”

“As far as I know Prince Edward County has not received official correspondence from Buckingham County regarding this issue,” said Prince Edward County Administrator Wade Bartlett. “As such Prince Edward County has not discussed this issue and has no stance on this item at this time.”

Buckingham County Administrator Rebecca Carter, in reference to an airport authority, stated, “I think first it should be sought if Prince Edward and Cumberland are interested in the possibility.” She also emphasized that if the other counties and Farmville seemed open to forming a partnership, it would be important for Buckingham County to investigate the cost and benefits of becoming a part of an airport authority.

“One thing I do know is, I know business and I know airplanes,” Dunnavant stated, “and if I can put the two together and kind of continue the service that I feel obligated to do even though I’m not on the board after the first of the year, if I can help our extended community in this capacity, it makes me feel good about myself.”