Aransas County commissioners, at their regular meeting Monday, Sept. 27, authorized Aransas County Airport Manager Mike Geer to prepare to petition the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to request that approximately 28 acres of land located within the boundaries of the Airport be released from the requirement that it be dedicated to aviation uses in order for the Airport to offer the property for long term lease and development for uses that may not be related to aviation.
“This is going to be a lengthy process, with me coming back (to the court) several times,” said Geer.
“What I’m asking for is money to do a survey and appraisal to use in a packet (which will initially be sent to TxDOT for review).
“We will start discussions with TxDOT, and then ultimately with the FAA.”
He noted this will benefit the airport.
“It all has to be done with fair market value,” said Geer.
Possible parcels of land at the Airport, that could be leased and developed, were identified working with the EDC (Aransas County Partnership Economic Development Corporation).
Geer noted any money raised in the future through such leases would be put back into the airport.
He said the only cost involved to get started with the process is his time, and the cost for a survey and appraisal. Geer estimated that cost, which is not budgeted, to be between $5,000 and $7,000.
There are four parcels of land that could be used, located between flight paths of the two runways.
“I think the land sitting there is money left on the table,” said Geer.
The process to be followed is:
• Identify land to be released
• Commissioners’ Court approval
• Appraisal to determine fair market value
• Prepare packets with cover letter, questionnaire
• Submit to TxDOT for review (approve/deny)
• Submit to FAA Regional for review (approve/deny)
• Submit to FAA headquarters for 30-day comment period.
Geer said, according to the original agreement with the War Department (when the airport was released to the County), any sale or lease of airport property has to benefit the airport.
Commissioners Bubba Casterline and Jack Chaney questioned if too much land is being considered for lease, considering the need for large expanses of land for debris storage after a major hurricane, as experienced after Hurricane Harvey.
Geer noted Crowder-Gulf, the company in charge of debris removal after Harvey, used the south end of the airport property. The three properties being considered for lease (if approved by TxDOT and FAA) is north of John Wendell Road, which is the main entrance into the airport.
He also said anything that goes on airport property should not attract birds.
“You don’t want to attract birds around an airport,” said Geer.
He noted the airport was able to sidestep some regulations after Harvey made a direct hit on Aransas County.
Geer also said there are three things that must be considered, when entering this process:
• The County must designate airport improvement projects(s) to be funded by land lease revenues, and provide a timeframe
• The FAA will not consider how this land release will benefit the local economy. They only care about the airport/civil aviation benefits.
• Any consideration for local economic benefit will have to be political.
Commissioner Pat Rousseau, as liaison to the Airport board, said she has some concerns.
“Not that it’s a bad idea, but it’s speculative,” she said.
Rousseau said, “Although you can come up with a project(s), one isn’t outlined.
She said lessees should be identified, then determine what they would do, and then come up with a project (for which lease funds would be used).
Geer said the process to release the property for lease will take about two years.
“(Today) I’m just asking for money to do the survey (and appraisal),” he said.
Chaney said it sounds like the airport has to come up with a project (or TxDOT and the FAA will reject the request to release the land).
“If we pass this, what is your first step?” asked Chaney.
Geer said getting the survey and appraisal.
Assistant County Attorney Jennifer O’Steen noted the agenda item did not call for money for the survey and appraisal.
“Would it be okay for us to approve starting the process today?” asked Commissioner Wendy Laubach.
When told yes, she made the motion to “prepare to petition” TxDOT and the FAA.
Chaney asked Geer if he can provide a chart with more details about each step in the process, and then seconded Laubach’s motion.
Some discussion followed regarding wanting to see details about any project (funded via lease revenue) at the airport, as well as information about possible lessees.
“I would depend on the EDC to find lessees,” said Geer. “At this point I’m just looking for new revenue streams.”
The vote was unanimous to “prepare to petition” TxDOT and the FAA to request that approximately 28 acres of land located within the boundaries of the Airport be released from the requirement that it be dedicated to aviation uses in order for the Airport to offer the property for long term lease and development for uses that may not be related to aviation.