Wicomico Plans Capital Upgrades For Regional Airport

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County this week were given a detailed description of certain projects that have been placed in the proposed Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for fiscal years 2019-2023.

On Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council met with Dawn Veatch, manager of the Salisbury Regional Airport, to discuss future improvement projects at the facility.

Tuesday’s work session follows a lengthy debate at a prior council meeting in which Councilman Joe Holloway questioned the justification for dedicating $70 million in local, state and federal funding to capital projects at the airport over the course of five years.

At the suggestion of Wayne Strausburg, the director of administration for Wicomico County, the council on Tuesday sat down with Veatch to discuss the need, and value, of projects listed on the county’s CIP.

Veatch told the council projects included in the county’s proposed CIP would provide the airport with vital upgrades.

General fund and enterprise projects for the airport include a new Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting station and truck, a new drone facility, runway and taxi expansions, a new computer generated radar system, a new snow removal equipment building and more.

Projects financed through the general fund are expected to cost $5.65 million through fiscal year 2023 while projects financed through the enterprise fund are expected to cost $64.35 million.

Among the more ambitious projects for the airport include the construction of a landing pad and hanger for drone operations at a cost of $750,000. Veatch said the airport has applied with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to become a test site for a drone facility and has garnered interest from 50 companies wishing to use the test site.

“Because we are so closely located to Wallops and NASA, this is a huge opportunity,” she said.

Councilman Joe Holloway asked if federal funding would be available to pay for the cost of the hanger and landing pad.

“Will the federal government chip in any money for this $750,000?” he said.

Veatch explained there was no federal money available for the project.

“The FAA is not funding anything with drones,” she said, adding that some money may be available at the state level.

Holloway asked if drone companies using the airport would contribute to the cost of the project.

“You said you had an operator interested in coming in,” he said. “Are they going to share costs for this?”

Veatch explained the companies would lease the space.

Holloway also questioned other funding sources.

“What other sources of income would help pay for this?” he said.

Veatch said she was hopeful the program would bring in additional companies and jobs.

“My hope is that the 50 companies that test with us, because of the synergy that would be created, that that partnership would continue and that they would build their own buildings and bring jobs to the county, which is my goal,” she said.

Veatch added that other capital projects at the airport, including a new security system and automated weather reporting system, would address “antiquated” technology. She said the airport’s current security system requires costly repairs.

“The system was installed in 2002 and is obsolete, so trying to get repairs and parts is extremely expensive,” she said. “We spent $17,000 on one gate alone, so we put in the budget to put in a new system.”

Following discussions on the airport, the Wicomico County Council also received a detailed report on proposed capital improvement projects within the Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism

General fund and enterprise projects for the department include several renovation projects at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, the development of a Park Master Plan for the Pirate’s Wharf property, new playground equipment at three county properties and more.

The county executive’s proposed CIP was presented to the council in early December. The council is expected to adopt the CIP in February.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.