Cable funds will pay for airport land

COVINGTON - The City Council agreed Monday night to use more than $3 million in proceeds from the sale of Covington Cable TV to reimburse the Newton County Industrial Development Authority for the purchase of 85 acres near the Covington Municipal Airport.

The IDA purchased two parcels - one adjacent to the airport runway and one south of the runway - from Nisshinbo Automotive Manufacturing Inc. for future development of the airport.

A 72.06-acre tract was purchased in November 2002, with the IDA issuing bonds, backed by the city, for $1.95 million. The IDA has paid $489,818 in interest at an annual rate of 5.01 percent, according to IDA secretary Frank Turner Jr.

In July, the IDA purchased an additional 13.71 acres for $696,030. The property included 2.15 acres for an access road into the airport, which the IDA gifted to the city for creation of a second entrance to the airport; 7.5 acres for future economic development; and 4.06 acres for a taxiway linking the larger parcel to the airport, Turner said.

All told, the IDA has spent $3,135,848 on the acquisitions. The IDA board voted Nov. 26 to request reimbursement.

The council agreed, with the stipulation that the title to the land be turned over to the city.

The city sold Covington Cable to Charter Communications in August for $27.3 million.

After paying off the expense of the sale and the system's $2 million debt, the city was left with $22,951,702.62 in net proceeds.

The council has already allocated $4.5 million to pay off debt, $3 million to the pension fund and more than $1 million for a homeless shelter on Turner Lake Circle.

In other news, the council approved the five-year Capital Improvement Program that must be submitted annually to the Federal Aviation Administration.

City Manager Steve Horton said the program is "an identifiable wish list.

"We're saying these are the things we think we're going to do over a five-year period. If you don't put it in there, anything that's not in the CIP tends not to be eligible for state or federal funding," Horton said.

The rehabilitation of the existing runway is included on the 2008 project list. The runway was recently expanded, with the existing portion sealed and coated.

Any development of the property purchased from Nisshinbo would likely be on the 2009 list, Horton said.

The city plans to undertake an environmental assessment of that property, along with an economic development that will be city-wide and include the airport, Horton said.

"It depends on the economic development study what the future will hold," he said, adding that could be additional general aviation hangars, corporate hangars or another fixed-base operator.

"Until we get the study done, it's hard to say what direction to really take off in," Horton said.

Finally, the council acknowledged receipt of a letter of intent from Jim Kelly, president of Epic Air Center out of Peachtree City, to operate a full service FBO at the airport.

Kelly learned about the airport while attending a National Business Aviation Association Convention in Atlanta in October, where he met with representatives from the Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce.

Horton said he met with Kelly and informed him about the environmental assessment and economic development study, and Kelly asked that the council accept the letter to acknowledge his interest.

Councilman John Howard said acknowledging receipt of the letter does not obligate the city to Epic Air Center in any way.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.