EDP to match grant dollars for airport improvements

WIGGINS — The Stone County Economic Development Partnership (EDP) board of directors has agreed to provide the local match dollars for a federal/state grant to improve the Dean Griffin Memorial Airport.

The airport, located in Wiggins, serves the entire Stone County area. The facility, jointly owned by the city of Wiggins and Stone County, is open to the public and was used to stage disaster recovery in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The EDP board agreed to provide $10,000 in local match money to attract an additional $390,000 in federal and state dollars. The money will be used to begin the process of moving the runway to the south by preloading the soil necessary to fill an incline in the area to where the runway is relocating.

The purpose is to ensure the “runway protection zone” will be within the boundaries of the airport. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, a runway protection zone is an “area off the runway end used to enhance the protection of people and property on the ground.”

City engineer Pete Williams, in his presentation to the EDP board, explained the airport’s runway protection zone extends into populated easements. Moving the runway to the south will make the airport safer, not only for pilots but people on the ground.

Jeffry Peters, EDP board chair, said, “Under the state law that created the Stone County Economic Development Partnership, our resources can only be used for projects or proposals that promote economic development. Transportation infrastructure is inseparably tied with economic development and our local investment will pay big dividends for the airport and the businesses, industries and individuals that make use of it.”

According to Jay Paul Gumm, EDP executive director, many communities across the nation have begun the process of upgrading air transportation facilities as more businesses and industries are using air travel to locate sites for business expansion and to maintain operations.

“A quality airport is a great equalizer for a community looking to expand its job base,” he said. “Because communication has become so universal and is instantaneous, the best way for the ‘face-to-face personal touch’ to keep pace is air transportation.

“Mobility is one of the key components of economic activity. With the upcoming expansion of the state port in Gulfport, and U.S. Highway 49 being a major corridor for goods traveling to and from the port, improving our air transportation ability gives Stone County a transportation capacity other communities can only envy.”

If all goes as planned, the preloading of soil will begin in 2012 with construction to begin in 2013.

Records indicate the money allocated for the airport is part of almost $300,000 the EDP has made available to the city and county over the past three years to help with projects within the organization’s statutory charge.

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