Commissioners nix runway grant

Airport board members say project carried too many strings

Citing a long list of objections, Ector County commissioners on Tuesday turned down a $15-million state grant to lengthen a runway at Odessa Airport-Schleymeyer Field.

Airport board members explained that they had unanimously voted July 6 to reject the funding because, among other reasons, the project would have entailed a $1.5-million obligation by the county, “the need for increased runway length has not been demonstrated,” the grant would not cover ramp and taxiway improvements and the border-surveilling Texas Department of Public Safety already can easily land its biggest aircraft, King Air 350s, at the airport north of town.

In a written report distributed by Airport Board Chairman Winston Kenworthy, the panel said, “The initial statement from State Rep. Brooks Landgraf that the extension of the runway was requested by law enforcement appears to be untrue.”

Referring to the recent meeting, Kenworthy read, “Commissioner Don Stringer discussed that he had been in contact with the DPS in Austin and was told they knew nothing about requesting a longer runway for Odessa.

“If the objective of those who secured the funding is to facilitate larger aircraft, such a decision requires a larger audience. Larger aircraft bring more noise and potentially larger fuel loads on departure with a potential increase in risks to the surrounding community. Freight aircraft tend to do much of their flights in the night.

“The county must come up with $16.5 million and later get refunded the $15 million. The new elementary school (Buice) on Loop 338 was built on the departure end of Runway 02. During periods of strong northerly winds, departures travel over that school.”

Kenworthy said number of jets is based at the airport, including two that could classify as transcontinental.

In a news release Tuesday afternoon, Landgraf said, “TexasAero is an entity under contract with Ector County to help operate the county’s airport.

“The head of TexasAero met with me to ask for my support in the state’s budget to give the Ector County Commissioners Court the option to secure matching funds where the county would have to escrow 10 percent of the awarded amount from the Texas Department of Transportation’s airport improvement program for the purpose of extending the main runway at Schlemeyer Field. That particular TxDOT fund may only be used for improvements at small airports across the state.

“At that time, I was told that the longer runway would be helpful to Texas DPS aircraft in their mission to help secure the border with Mexico, a responsibility that the State of Texas has undertaken as a result of the Biden administration’s policies. Further, I was told that a longer runway would make Schlemeyer eligible for more FAA grant funds.
“It’s well known that I’m in favor of giving Ector County officials and other local officials the option to use state resources to make improvements to our transportation infrastructure that are designated for that purpose. In a similar vein, I’ve worked to secure record amounts of state transportation funds for both state highways and county roads in the Permian Basin during the last two budget cycles.

Landgraf said the decision was always in county officials hands. “The grant funding made available in the state budget to Ector County for the extension of the Schlemeyer Field runway was always a local decision for County Commissioners to make. I appreciate the Ector County Commissioners Court for making a decision Tuesday that they determined was best regarding the grant funding. I supported giving them the option to apply for those state funds by making them available to Ector County, but the final decision was always meant to be made locally.”

After the 10 a.m. commissioners’ meeting, airport board members Mark Merritt and Travis Fisher told the Odessa American that Billy Meyer of Waco, owner of fixed base operator TexasAero at Odessa-Schleymeyer, “paid (Austin lobbyist) Kelly Barnes of Hillco Partners $200,000 to get the grant.”

An effort to reach Meyer Tuesday afternoon was unsuccessful.

In other business, Senior Centers Director Donna Greaves’ request for a part-time employee to be made full-time was denied on a 3-2 vote with Precinct 2 Commissioner Greg Simmons, Precinct 3 Commissioner Don Stringer and Judge Debi Hays voting “no” in opposition to Commissioners Mike Gardner of Precinct 1 and Armando Rodriguez of Precinct 4. Simmons said the proposal will be considered during deliberations for the 2021-22 budget.

The commissioners also:

>> Heard Odessa Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Director Wesley Burnett thank them for finalizing property tax abatements for a $6.5-billion to $7-billion plant that will convert natural gas into gasoline. The Nacero Corp. of Houston is scheduled to start construction late this year or early next year at Penwell, 15 miles west-southwest of Odessa off I-20.

>> Welcomed Alexis “Lexi” Ruch, a recent graduate of Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau who is the Extension Service’s new agent for agriculture and natural resources.

>> Appointed Dr. Babatunde Jinadu a civil surgeon at the Ector County Health Department, where he will examine legal immigrants seeking permanent residency or certain types of visas.

>> Accepted a donation from ECISD police to the sheriff’s office for use at the courthouse of a baggage, parcel and person-screening system made by the Rapiscan Co. of Torrance, Calif.

>> Approved specifications for drainage and paving improvements on 67th Street and for milling and overlay work on Moss Avenue.

>> OK’d specifications for food services at the senior centers and the adult and juvenile detention centers.

>> Tabled cybersecurity measures related to the Help America Vote Act of 2002, which would require $16,000 in matching money.

>> Approved insuring an aerial surveillance drone to help the environmental services department curb illegal trash dumping.

>> Withdrew at the behest of Sheriff Mike Griffis his request to raise pay for a behavioral health screener from step one to step four on the county’s pay scale, or from $21.55 to $24.24 per hour.

>> OK’d hiring an assistant county attorney to handle child protective service cases for $43.86 per hour.