Talks again in the works

An airport for northern Clay County?

Kile Brewer
Posted 5/31/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Thirty years after first talking about the idea, county officials are getting more serious about the idea of a county airport in northern Clay County.

County Commissioner …

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Talks again in the works

An airport for northern Clay County?

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Thirty years after first talking about the idea, county officials are getting more serious about the idea of a county airport in northern Clay County.

County Commissioner Gayward Hendry reminded everyone of this at a recent luncheon with the county’s constitutional officers. When it was his time to speak, Hendry only wanted to say one thing to the board, and he repeated those words several times in an effort to get them stuck in the minds of everyone in attendance.

“Regional airport,” Hendry repeated, like a mantra, for attendees. “I try to plant this seed everywhere I go.”

Hendry and the Clay County Board of Commissioners are in total support of the idea, and recently inquired to Clay County Port Inc. about a study to determine whether or not this would be a good move. Hendry said the former Lee Air Field navy base and its runway would be the perfect place for a county-owned airport.

“The county looked at this option in 2001 and decided it was not cost feasible at that time, and they had done a similar study about 15 years before that,” said Ted McGowan, executive director of the Port.

McGowan said that the owners haven’t decided what they want to do, but Hendry thinks this is as good a time as any with the First Coast Expressway making its way to the area as soon as January of 2019 when construction on the southern segment of the roadway gets underway.

“The point I’ve been trying to stress is: we’ve got waterways, and (with the Expressway) roads, all we need is an airport to make Clay County a complete transportation hub,” Hendry said. “Everyone’s talking about it. With the [Expressway] being built right next to it, we’ve got a successful project waiting to happen. This is long overdue.”

The proposed site is Reynolds Airpark, a runway outside Green Cove Springs that was built for training U.S. Navy pilots during World War II. The park was decommissioned in the 1960s and has been privately owned by Clay County Port Inc. since.

The facility currently has a 5,000-foot runway, and after some repaving and renovations, could support a variety of private and cargo jets.

The site is ideal for the type of airport that Hendry envisions, but there is a lot to be done before paving trucks take to the tarmac and contractors start installing infrastructure and buildings to support air travelers. The pre-planning is such a robust undertaking that, after 30 years of discussions and conversation, Reynolds Park hasn’t changed drastically.

“We’re looking for a starting point,” Hendry said. “We need a plan to put in place.”

Even if there was a plan, the construction of the Expressway could put a pin in the airport project if the Florida Department of Transportation takes part of the property as right-of-way for the highway. According to Hendry, the Expressway property could totally block the airport.

However, according to McGowan, the current alignment of the Expressway has moved the intersection of the highway with U.S. Highway 17 further south, as previous plans would have created an interchange that would block the Reynolds runway from ever expanding. With the current alignment, there would be nothing stopping Clay County Port from expanding the runway to accommodate larger planes and a municipal airport.

“I think people are interested,” said County Manager Stephanie Kopelousos. “Right now, the Port is negotiating with DOT. After they get through that, the group has to focus on what they are willing to do with it, because we don’t own it.”

In addition to coordination with DOT, McGowan said there were some restrictions put on the Reynolds Airpark property by the Navy before turning it over to private ownership. At the time of sale, the Navy had restricted the property from ever being used as an airport, but, last fall, Clay County Port was able to get those restrictions lifted.

McGowan said that nothing will happen just yet, but as for the future, “I think that at some point it will.”

Hendry first publicly floated the airport concept on Jan. 30 when he addressed the annual meeting of the Clay County Legislative Delegation. Sen. Rob Bradley(R-Fleming Island) fielded Hendry’s comments with hope saying “let’s begin that conversation.” In May 1987, FDOT and Clay County worked to jointly fund a feasibility study for the airport that ended in no municipal airport.

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