BRUNSWICK COUNTY — On Monday night county commissioners will vote on fronting $1.8 million, in the form of a grant advance, for the acquisition of 45 acres from a private landowner to build additional aircraft hangars at the Cape Fear Regional Airport in Oak Island.
The planned expansion comes while the independent, non-air carrier airport faces high growth demands and property constraints. Its 200-acre property is bordered by the Intracoastal Waterway to the south and Dutchman Creek to the east, and there is no longer any land for further development.
According to the airport’s director, Howie Franklin, the airport is the fourth busiest in the state, a determination made by the Federal Aviation Authority based on the frequency of landings and take-offs.
Franklin said the airport’s growing demand is driven by the county’s overall growth rate — it is the fastest growing county in the state — and by a tourism economy fueled by mild weather, relatively cheap coastal real estate, and an abundance of beaches and golf courses.
To keep up with this demand, Franklin said, the airport must improve and expand.
“Our terminal building was a BB&T donation to the airport around 30, 40 years ago. I mean, the floors aren’t even level. And we have billionaires who come in here on a regular basis — people from Alaska, Palm Springs, San Francisco,” Franklin said.
He pointed to the fact that his airport exceeds Hilton Head Island Airport in plane traffic, even though the area’s tourism infrastructure development is “25 years behind Hilton Head.”
If the loan is approved, two parcels of land directly west of the airport’s runway will be purchased in two phases, 12 to 18 months apart, at a total of $1.8 million as an advancement for a promised grant from the NCDOT’s Division of Aviation.
According to Franklin, there’s good reason for the state to make the future reimbursement: he said an economic impact study conducted by North Carolina State University found that “for every dollar the state put into aviation, they got a $19 return.”
In September, Division of Aviation Director Bobby Walston committed $1.49 million in state transportation funds for future reimbursement of the land acquisition, contingent on grant eligibility and approval from the NCDOT Board of Transportation — and a match of $166,000 from the county.
State reimbursement will either come in phases — $373,500 per year starting 2019 — or in full. The $1.8 million budget includes appraisal fees totaling $100,000.
“The NCDOT Division of Aviation appreciates your commitment and contribution to our state aviation system and we are excited to partner with you on this project,” Walston wrote in September to Brunswick County Board of Commissioners Chairman William Gore.
The commitment came in response to Gore’s request in July for the grant advance, seeking a written agreement from the Division of Aviation for repayment of the land purchase in order to loan the money now, “while the property owner is willing to sell.”
Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia.com