Airport needs local funds to receive grant

Commissioners delay vote to get more information

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The Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport recently secured a multimillion-dollar grant for improvements to its runway and taxiway. While 90 percent of the $14.8 million project will be funded through the state and federal grant, it will require a 10 percent local match funded by five entities — Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties and the cities of Wilson and Rocky Mount.

On Monday, Rocky Mount-Wilson airport director Dion Viventi requested an allocation of $211,458 from Wilson County commissioners for match funding for the runway and taxiway pavement project.

“The state requires a local match certification,” Viventi said, adding that if the airport doesn’t secure those matches, the government will send the grant money elsewhere.

“We probably won’t have an opportunity like this until whenever the federal government is willing to contribute again,” he told commissioners. “It will be unlikely if we don’t take it at this time.”

Local matches the airport is seeking include $211,458 each from Wilson, Nash and Edgecombe counties as well as $422,916 each from the city of Wilson and the city of Rocky Mount. The total local match comes in at $1.48 million. Viventi said Nash County approved its allotment on Monday morning.

After nearly an hour-long discussion, commissioners agreed to postpone the vote for the county’s portion of allocated funding until next week. Due to the timeframe of the request, which commissioners only found out about last week, they needed a few more questions answered regarding grant requirements and the funding process.

“This allows commissioners more time to ask additional questions and feel confident in their decision,” said Ron Hunt, assistant county manager.


Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Boyette questioned airport officials about the timing of their request. The bid process for the project is already underway, but the airport cannot receive the multimillion-dollar grant unless all five entities get on board and agree to allocate the local match funding.

Commissioner Chris Hill had several questions regarding the county’s legal obligations. He and Commissioner Bill Blackman suggested they postpone the vote for the funding to get their questions answered and speak further with attorneys and other elected officials including those in the city of Wilson to see if they plan on supporting the funding as well.

“I have no problem supporting it,” said board Vice Chairman Leslie Atkinson. “It’s just short notice and puts us in a bind. The airport is still going to deteriorate if we don’t do something.”

Commissioner Sherry Lucas voted against postponing the decision. She said she had all the information she needed.

“We need to be innovative and begin to look how our county is going to benefit,” she said. “But yet we have to consider the entities here in Wilson County that depend on that airport. We’ve got some major players at the table.”

Commissioner Roger Lucas said he supported the funding but would be OK with postponing the vote until his colleagues felt more comfortable.


Paul Smith of WK Dickson & Co. told commissioners an existing conditions assessment showed that the runway and taxiways’ pavement was below acceptable standards for aircraft takeoff and landings. The assessment also showed “full-depth cracks in the surface of the pavement.”

“Two years ago, that pavement started to be in the poor or failing range,” Smith told commissioners. He said that started the process of putting together a plan to not only upgrade it but restore its life and improve the facility as well.

He said the state went to the Federal Aviation Administration and nominated this project, which got the cycle moving.

“They believed in the project enough and the need of the project, that it wanted FAA involvement,” he said. “It’s a very unique situation in regard to the five sponsorships.”

Smith added that the state conducted an economic impact study for aviation this year.

“The result of that was a 20:1 return on investment,” he said. “They believe that this $14 million (project) has the opportunity to generate a $280 million return based on the economic impact study rate. I think that’s significant.”


Johnson Bissette, chairman of the airport commission who represents the city of Wilson on the board, said if the regional airport had to be built today, it would cost at least $40 million.

“It’s a very good airport,” he said. “It’s supporting planes that Wilson (Industrial Airport) will not support. Your corporate airplanes are not going to fly into Wilson Industrial Airport. You don’t have enough runway. You don’t have emergency services over there.”

He said the larger airports are made for corporate and business entities.

“We have 7,000 feet over there,” he said. “It’s all about industry.”

He said there is a lot of investment at the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport.

“It’s mainly for business that’s flying in and out of there,” he said. “These people are doing business in Wilson County as well as Nash County.”

Hill said he wasn’t disagreeing with that, he just had an issue with the funding request being brought up last week. And now airport officials are in a time crunch, and the county is looking to spend some $200,000 that was not budgeted for this year.

Commissioner JoAnne Daniels said she believed the board should really consider the funding.

“We don’t want to lose businesses if they’re thinking of coming and flying into our airport,” she said. “But I am concerned how it will benefit us.”

She said if the state and federal agencies have that much confidence in the Rocky Mount-Wilson Regional Airport to fund the project, then “we need to have the confidence in the airport as well.”

Commissioners are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the matter further.