Commissioners discussion

Avery County Commissioner Dennis Aldridge makes a point while assistant county manager Cindy Turbyfill and commissioners Martha Hicks and Tim Phillips intently listen.

NEWLAND — Modes of transportation were on the mind of the Avery Board of Commissioners during their regular September meeting.

Dean Harris with the Avery County Airport Authority presented an update from the Avery County Airport Terminal Area Development Plan, discussing renovations that have been completed in the last few years as well as what items are still left to be done.

Harris said the airport has completed an apron expansion, built a partial parallel taxiway and completed an airport layout plan. Additionally, the fuel tanks have been lifted out of the ground to create an above ground fuel farm from which pilots can fill their planes and pay by credit card.

According to Harris, there are still many items left in the development plan to be completed.

“The state has been putting projects off a bit,” Harris said, and that the next developments most likely will not be in the near future. Nevertheless, a new maintenance and repair hangar, airport weather observation service and terminal building are still in the plans in the future.

Debbie Smith from the Avery County Department of Transportation spoke during a public hearing regarding the department’s application for a community transportation program grant. Smith said the state’s allotment of funds to the county department of transportation has decreased by about $7,400 this cycle.

In the application for grant funding, Smith said that there is one vehicle in the department of transportation’s fleet that will need to be replaced in the 2022 to 2023 fiscal year. The minibus that the ACDOT needs to replace is a 2016 model with more than 100,000 miles which, according to state law, Smith said requires replacement. Smith said the county is looking to purchase another Ford Transit instead, as this type of vehicle is more used by the county and can access areas they regularly travel more easily due to its smaller size.

County manager Phillip Barrier continued the conversation about grants with some updates on funding the county has applied for. Barrier said that the county has extended its application window for home rehabs and replacements being done under the Community Development Block Grant, for which the county is reapplying for this year.

Applications have been extended until Friday, Sept. 24. The application is located on the county website at https://www.averycountync.gov/news_detail_T3_R171.php.

Barrier also said that another area for community involvement with grants is in the county’s effort to expand broadband access with Skyline Skybest. Cards were passed out a month ago, Barrier said, to inform Avery residents to sign up and get their location mapped so that the county has a clearer image of who is in need of broadband access and which locations. With the money received from the American Rescue Plan, the county is hoping to expand access soon.

Lastly, Barrier announced that the county had received a grant from the Dogwood Trust which the county applied for to support affordable workforce housing. The $275,000 will help conduct a study of the county and its municipalities to understand its assets and barriers to affordable housing. The Dogwood Trust is also aiding Avery County in its work with Freedom Life, a group that aims to reduce repeat incarceration through faith and support.

The board also moved to make a pair of appointments at the meeting, as Scott Heath was approved for appointment to the Avery County Fire Commission and Cary Hall was approved for appointment to the AMY Regional Library Board.

The next county commissioners meeting will be held at 3:30 p.m. on October 4, at the Commission Boardroom at the County Administrative Building.

Marisa Mecke is a Report for America corps member with Mountain Times Publications. Report for America is a national nonprofit service program which places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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