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New location eyed for fire training facility

COVINGTON -- The location for a joint training facility for Covington and Newton County firefighters will likely be moved due to concerns from federal and state officials about its proximity to the local airport.

The facility was originally planned to be located on a 15-acre site near the Covington Municipal Airport, but the Federal Aviation Administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation have expressed concern that smoke production from live fire training could pose a safety hazard to pilots attempting to land at the airport, according to Covington Fire Chief John McNeil. While the agencies can't prevent the city and county from constructing the facility there, given that the FAA and DOT have gone on record as being opposed to the location of the training facility, leaving it there "could possibly be a liability," he said. "Something could always happen and they could say the smoke interfered and was a hazard to a crash, so the site is no longer a viable option."

Another site owned by the city is being considered -- roughly 23 acres of woodland just outside city limits on Piper Road east of Ga. Hwy. 36. The site is more than 5 miles from the airport. McNeil said the city is making sure there are no issues with the title and all proper documents are in order before the site is approved for the training facility. Approval from the Board of Commissioners would also be required, and the county would be asked to pay the city half the value of the land. The county and city are splitting the estimated $1.5 million construction cost of the training facility, which will include a burn building for live fire training and a four-story tower for repelling and simulation of high rise situations, as well as a course for driving training.

Right now, "There are no hands on facilities. We're making do with props," McNeil said.

Once completed, the facility should improve the ISO rating for the county and city, which affects insurance premiums for residents, McNeil said. At this point the timeline for completing the facility is not known.