Fire station a hurdle in runway plan

By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – An extension of Tupelo Regional Airport’s runway is at least a year away, giving airport and city officials time to talk about moving fire station No. 6, which sits on airport property on Coley Road.
On Tuesday, an engineering firm hired to study a 1,000-foot extension told the Tupelo Airport Authority that the most plausible option was adding 650 feet to the north and 350 feet to the south.
But doing so would mean moving the fire station.
Allen Thames, senior aviation planner for Neel-Schaffer, expects to have cost estimates for the proposed project within a month.
“We think the FAA will like this option,” Thames said, referring to the Federal Aviation Administration.
Airport officials for several years have lobbied to extend the runway from its current 6,500 feet to 7,500 feet in order to accommodate larger planes and fuel loads.
Doing so, they say, could attract cargo companies and improve commercial air service.
Originally, the authority wanted to extend only to the north, but that would have meant closing and rerouting the busy West Jackson Street Extended. That idea was met with vocal opposition from residents and businesses who use the road as an east-west connector through the city.
Earlier this year, the authority said it wanted runway extension options that didn’t interfere with West Jackson Street Extended.
The latest proposal allows the street to remain open.
And as part of the southern extension, FAA landing equipment would have to be moved. Fire station No. 6 has to be relocated because it would sit inside a “runway protection zone.” But the BancorpSouth bank branch next to it would sit outside the zone and would not have to be moved.
“That’s good, because moving a bank location wouldn’t be cheap,” said Thames. “You’re talking about a building that’s very well-built and meant to stand for a long time, plus the drive-through and all the equipment connected to it. It would be expensive to move.”
In addition, the bank sits on private property, and the airport would have to negotiate a price. And it’s not a guarantee that BancorpSouth would agree to move even if asked.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. was unavailable for comment on Wednesday about moving the fire station, but in an earlier interview, he said it was too early to talk about it.
City Council President Fred Pitts said he was aware of the potential need to move the fire station, but said “we haven’t talked about it as a council.”
He also said he supported an extension of the airport runway with as little impact on West Jackson Extended as possible.
But questions remain about the fire station would move, and at what cost.
For reference, the city’s newest fire station, No. 4, on North Gloster Street, cost $976,187.
Thames said that because the project is federally funded by up to 95 percent, moving the fire station also would be covered.
“It’s good not having it on the backs of the taxpayers to pay for it,” Pitts said.
Thames said the station could move farther north on Coley Road on airport property, or it could go on West Main Street, east of the bank, but remaining on airport property.
“But the city would have to look at the impact on its fire rating, and then the city planning department also would have to weigh in,” he said.
Ultimately, assuming the FAA approves this 650-350 extension plan, the airport authority will have to ask the city to move the fire station.

Contact Dennis Seid at (601) 353-3119 or dennis.seid@djournal.com.