By Outer Banks Voice on July 16, 2019
BY NEEL KELLER
There were clear signs of support from the Dare County Commissioners for a Dare Regional Airport modernization project that would include expanding the main runway following a presentation by consultant Brent Lane at the board’s July 15 meeting.
Because of technical glitches during his first presentation of the proposal at the June 3 commissioners’ meeting, Lane, who was hired by the Airport Authority to conduct the study at a cost of $19,500, agreed to present it to the board for a second time this week.
One of Lane’s primary messages, on both occasions, was that the expansion would be an economic engine for Dare County, as well as an antidote to what he called a “missing middle” problem that is causing an erosion of the “prime working-age” population in the county.
It was a message apparently not lost on the commissioners.
“I think it’s time,” said Commissioner Danny Couch, voicing strong support for the expansion. “We’ve got a screaming economy here. And we had the study from N.C. State that indicated that we have to expand. Yes, tourism is our bread and butter, but, if we’re going to expand in other directions, we’ve got to meet the challenges of what’s coming. And air is going to be it.”
“I think it’s critical that we get this accomplished,” Board Chairman Bob Woodard told the Sentinel after the presentation. “We don’t need to be left behind.” Noting that the board feels the same way, he added: “It’s critical that we expand this to help continue to foster a strong economy in Dare County.”
In his remarks, Lane said the proposal to extend the airport’s primary runway from its current 4,300 feet to 5,800 feet has an estimated cost of $30 million, of which $27 million is to be paid for by state and federal funding. The renovation, he added, would produce a projected 50% growth in economic impacts on Dare County and expand the current 513 jobs that generate $77,321,679 in economic activity in Dare County to 770 jobs that generate $115,950,432.
In addition to a “temporary benefit” during the construction work, providing an additional 188 jobs and generating an additional $30 million in economic activity, Lane stressed that the expansion would make the airport usable by the larger airplanes that increasingly make up the majority of the key “air commerce” flights.
The current 4,300-foot-long runway, he warned, is substantially shorter than many regional airports in the area, putting Dare County at a severe competitive disadvantage and threatening to make the airport “obsolete” in the not-too-distant future.
In making his argument, Lane cited a concerning “demographic” trend indicating that, while Dare County experienced a population growth of more than 7,000 residents since 2000, it actually saw a decline in the percentage of residents in the “prime working age” population between 25 and 54, which fell from 47% to 38% of the total population.
Characterizing this as a “missing middle problem,” Lane stressed that “it’s not that people are leaving this community because you don’t have commercial service. I’m afraid they’re not even considering coming here.”
Answering a question about a possible shutdown of the primary runway during the expansion work, Airport Director David Daniels said the runway could be cleared in advance of an aircraft landing there.
Addressing another question about the likelihood of expanding the runway on land versus into the sound, Board Vice Chairman Wally Overman said that the engineering work on the proposal has pointed to the main part of the extension going “into the sound, by necessity. In essence there’s just nowhere to go on land.” He added that, “from an engineering standpoint, this is not a big deal.”
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