Good grades for upgrades

Published 10:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2016

POWELLSVILLE – Taking flight.

Bertie County’s mayors, town council members, and County Commissioners think one of the ways to stoke the economic engine of the region could be an upgrade to the Tri-County Airport terminal building.

Located off NC Hwy 561 nearly equidistant between Woodland, Aulander, and Ahoskie, the small public use air facility serves primarily Bertie, Northampton, and Hertford counties.

The airport celebrated 50 years of existence in 2015 and is built to service not only local pilots and their aircraft, but also to aid with transportation for many of the businesses and industries in the area. Some of the companies that utilized the facility in just the past year include Perdue, NUCOR, WIMCO, Valley Protein, and Golden Peanut.

From a runway extension in 1989 to new runway lights installed in 2012 to the jet fuel-aviation gas system in 2015, the Tri-County Airport Authority continues to improve. Three members of the Authority are from Bertie County, including chairman and Powellsville mayor Thomas Asbell.

Asbell hosted the quarterly Mayors-Commissioner’s Dinner in Powellsville on July 14. He used that time to clue in his fellow town executives on how the facility could be upgraded.

Asbell says they are now talking expansion once again, and they’d like to begin with a new airport terminal building which Commissioners’ chairman John Trent says needs serious modernization.

“It’s been around for a very long time and other than janitorial maintenance, I don’t think anything else has been done to it,” Trent said.

Trent cited an aging roof with poor drainage that even has small pine seedlings growing out of it, leaking windows, the rock wall facing, even the molded black lettering on the front; they could all use facelifts.

“It’s salvageable,” he maintained. “We can put this thing back together and have an airport terminal and a Tri-County airport that we can all be proud of.”

Asbell said there are some who would like to see an entirely new terminal building at the airport.

“We cannot afford that,” he said. “We had it proposed – and I hate to put these figures out there because people can hold you to that – but there’s a possibility of a million dollars, but I’d have to see that before I start spending any money.

“We’re always trying to fire up our economic engine,” Asbell said. “They see the potential the airport authority has and it is truly a diamond in the rough.”

Asbell said the airport has completed the underground ‘tank farm’, which will allow it now to service aircraft; and there’s another motivating factor in refurbishing the terminal.

“Now we want to get the building infrastructure up to date and what we want to do is have offices out there for each county’s Office of Economic Development,” he stated. “So that when we have potential visitors come in they can find out what we have to offer, they won’t have to look at this blighted building. That is if we can do what we’re talking about – and we’re going to do it.”

“They’ll be on hand to meet-and-greet and be prepared to show our visitors what each county has to offer. Most of the time what’s going to affect them is a ‘first impression’,” Asbell noted.

Asbell said 500 feet needed to be added to the airport runway in order to attract jet traffic.

“We thought (tonight) was good arena to bring this out in because we have all our neighbors here together and you can see what we’re looking at for the future of not just one segment of the population, but five counties and a lot of people and resources we have,” he acknowledged. “It’s similar to the treehouse project in Windsor – several persons with expertise from different arenas. If we can show we can do this and get the same benefit for $142,000 while the government spends a million, then just give me that.”

Asbell ended by challenging his fellow mayors to get interest in the rebuilding project going in their individual towns by riding out to the airport, observe its operation, and see the potential of planeloads of people.

Trent said there was no timetable for the rehabilitation work to begin; once the grant is approved then the contractors could begin.

Each mayor then gave short narratives about what their municipalities have been working on. Among the highlights:

Mayor Jim Hoggard said Windsor had completed two of the treehouses for the Cashie Tree House Village; a series of cabins on the river built with the cooperation of ECU students, the ‘TreeHouse Guys’ of TV’s DIY Network, and Mideast Resources Conservation Development. Two of the treehouse cabins in the $1.3 million project have been completed, but Hoggard said there are some plumbing issues to be resolved.

“County officials have been very cooperative, planning people have been cooperative, and state officials have been cooperative; so as soon as the bathroom facilities have been completed, then we can start renting them out,” Hoggard said. “We think it’s a big asset and we do want to build some more.”

Mayor Gloria Bryant invited folks out to Askewville’s Family Day on September 17; and their future lending library at Askewville Town Hall.

Colerain Mayor Thomas Waicul bragged on the upgrades to the Primary Care Health facility, the museum, and the opening of Café 45 Restaurant.

Lewiston-Woodville Mayor Dayle Vaughan talked up the newly-opened Roanoke River boat ramp and fishing pier.

Aulander Councilman Ron Poppell proclaimed their pride in the town’s $4.7 million sewer project, upgrades to the gym at the recreation complex, and the town’s new Family Dollar store.

Finally, Kelford Mayor Bailey Parker touted the clean-up and beautification effort his town has made. Bailey also gave an update for Roxobel by complimenting Bakers’ Southern Traditions on their award of a Re-Use grant to expand their peanut business.

County Manager Scott Sauer briefly touched on some county projects in the works: a proposed PARTF and CAMA grant to assist in the development of the “Tall Drink of Water” Albemarle Sound-front property the county closed on earlier this month; a feasibility study on a proposed hotel in the county; and upgrades on county Water District-III in the South Windsor area.

“It’s an exciting time and a lot of good things are happening,” Sauer said, “and it all involves the county and the towns working together.”

Bertie County Sheriff John Holley said he anticipates moving into the new Sheriff’s Office location on County Farm Road in Windsor very soon, declaring the move: ‘overdue’.

“We’ve heard a lot of positive things around the tables tonight,” said Commissioner Ronald “Ron” Wesson before the group adjourned. “We need to let our citizens know good things are happening and we need to be looking for more opportunities to work together and bring them some more positive news.”