Airport improvements continues to progress

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By Lou Elliott Jones

The county is moving ahead with making improvements to George T. Lewis Airport, opening bids on April 25 for new fencing and a project to provide erosion control and restoration of 155 feet of shoreline near the end of a runway. 

County Coordinator Fred Moody gave the Levy County Commission an update on the plans and the results of a public meeting held on the island on April 2 where residents voiced concerns about the fencing proposal, its affect on property values, the relocation of County Road 470 and plans for improving the airport and its operation. 

The fencing and landscaping are being funded by a $136,000 Florida Department of Transportation grant. The FDOT is paying for the design and permitting for the erosion project. No funding has been made available as yet. The road project is being paid for by the county Roads Department. 

“The fencing was more of an issue than the road,” Moody said. “There was some discussion from residents about the loss of property value from the fencing, but you're going to have an upgrade with the road and landscaping.” 

Moody said the federal Department of Homeland Security was requiring a fence along the perimeter of the airport and that original plans called for it to be at least 6 feet high and topped with three lines of concertina (barbed) wire. But the current plans call for only a 4-foot high, vinyl-coated fence that will be masked by plantings of native shrubbery. 

Plans drawn up by Passero Associates LLC of Jacksonville call for County Road 470, better known as Southwest 166th Street, which also is a turnaround for the airport's taxiway will be shifted to outside the perimeter fence. 

The road is used by residents and visitors to walk and drive to homes on the island and for exercise. 

Commission Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4), whose district includes Cedar Key, said he had received a lot of negative calls about the plans. 

Commissioner John Meeks of Bronson (R-District 1) wanted to know if the Florida Department of Transportation, which is funding the improvements, “will be on the hook” for watering and maintaining the landscaping around the airport. 

Moody said the Friends of Cedar Key Airport, a non-profit group, may take on the responsibility and he credited them with providing a portable bathroom at the airport which currently has no facilities. 

Moody said FDOT's future plans call for construction of a small accommodation center where pilots and arrivals would have restrooms and a phone to call for transportation around the area. 

Meeks noted the irony of the resident's objections: “The fence is appalling to them with the shrubbery in front but the road is not.”

Moody said, “Everybody's got their own idea of what to do.”