Lexington County holds ribbon cutting to re-open airport in Pelion
Pelion, SC (Paul Kirby) – A ribbon cutting was held Monday to re-open Lexington County’s airport in Pelion, SC. It had been closed for approximately four months as extensive renovations to the runway took place. The official ceremony was split between the interior of one of the airport’s hangers and the end of the runway that had just been widened and strengthened.
Originally, the asphalt was used as a dragstrip for cars. Years ago, the town of Pelion acquired it and eventually it was transferred to Lexington County. Since that time, the county’s leadership has partnered with the SC Aeronautics Commission and the FAA to make several changes and major upgrades to the facility. It can now handle the weight and rollout length of turbo-prop airplanes and in the future there’s a possibility it could be lengthened to the point that small business jets could also land there.
The airport has now been changed from an asphalt to a concrete surface and undergone extensive changes that added to its value for small to medium aircraft that may come with the expansion of industry and a population that can afford to fly recreationally. The name of the airport is now officially the Lexington County Airport, just a slight change as the words at Pelion were dropped from its end, according to Lexington County Administrator Joe Mergo.
The former runway at the airport was 4,335-feet long and 60-feet wide. The new construction has now classified the runway as a RDC B-II, which allows for larger personal aircraft to utilize the airfield. It was also widened from 60 feet to 75 feet. The safety area was widened from 120 feet to 150 feet in case of accidents or overruns, something that could save lives if a pilot experienced a problem while either taking off or landing. There have also been drainage improvements and measures were also put in place to attenuate stormwater runoff due to the 1.5 acres of additional paved surface.
The cost of construction was covered for the most part by grants that totaled $3,898,094. Of that amount, the FAA paid the lion’s share which totaled about $3,508,284 or 90%. Of the 10% that was left, the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission paid $194,905 or 5%, and Lexington County paid $194,905 which was the 5%.
Because the airport had to be improved to bring it up to FAA standards, a lot of design work went into the project. The county also received a design grant of $162,410. Of that amount, the FAA chipped in $146,170, the South Carolina Aeronautics Commission paid $8,120, again 5%, and the remainder was paid by Lexington County to the tune of $8,120. In total, the project cost was just over $4 million dollars and Lexington County was only liable for 5% of that amount!
Joe Mergo, Lexington County’s administrator said before the ribbon cutting that the airport was another example of the teamwork that Lexington County has demonstrated with other governmental agencies across the state. He praised everyone involved including the construction company, the designers, and all of the state and federal employees that made the project come to fruition. “This is another example of our if you build it they will come attitude.” Mergo and some of the other speakers have joined their voices in raising that rallying cry explained themselves by saying that sometimes the leadership of Lexington County has been criticized for investing in projects that seem to have a minimal immediate impact. However, in the long run, and after looking at the overall big picture, Lexington County is poised for greatness unlike any other entity in our state and region.
Former County Council Chairman Todd Cullum who was at the event Monday has said many times we are not competing with other counties and cities in SC for investment dollars, we are competing with the likes of Charlotte, Atlanta, Austin, and other well-known booming cities across the country. Remember that businesses pay for most of the operational expenses of our schools. Owner occupied homes had their school’s operational millage rolled back years ago by Act 388. The more business that we have invested in Lexington County, the better it will be for all of us who must service school bond debt that is the result of building new schools; a completely different expense from operational dollars. Already, the Lexington County airport is estimated to have an economic impact to Lexington County that is well in excess of one million dollars. Personal aircraft are considered real property and are taxed at a rate of just over 10%.
In addition to the partnerships with other governmental entities, Mergo also touted the working relationship that Lexington County already has with the business community. Comporium, the phone and highspeed internet provider that services many of the homes in the area near the airport, has committed to providing some upgrades to the terminal that includes better computer systems, improved internet service, large, flat-screen tv’s, and upgraded furniture. They also provided the lunch that was served during the ceremony.
There were a large group of pilots at the ribbon cutting who use the airport. They had waited in great anticipation for the reopening. As soon as the group of people that were on hand to celebrate the ribbon cutting moved off the runway, the airport was back open and available for landings and take-offs.