State tags $15 million for Schleymeyer expansion

Now that Gov. Greg Abbott has signed Texas’ new biennial budget into law without vetoing a $15-million Odessa Airport-Schleymeyer Field appropriation, Ector County commissioners will analyze the runway extension plan and decide whether to accept the money.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Don Stringer, the court’s representative to the airport advisory board, indicated Monday that he was somewhat wary. “We won’t accept or reject it till we do some research,” Stringer said.

“In plain terms, we don’t know what the $15 million would cost us. If we can spend it on needs that we have and it won’t cost us too much down the road, then we’ll accept it. But we will reach out to the state and find out what the line item is meant for. There should be documentation in the budget to say what the money can be spent for.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Mike Gardner, who represents the airport area north of town, is against extending the southeast-to-northwest-running Runway No. 1129 from 6,200 feet to over 7,000 feet to accommodate bigger planes.

Referring to an airport board meeting last week where State Rep. Brooks Landgraf reviewed the proposal, Gardner said, “I don’t know what the other members of the court will do, but my mind was already made up because there would be too many strings attached.

“Along with the $15 million would come $500,000 a year from the Federal Aviation Administration that we would have to match. Then when that runway wore out, we’d have to build another one. We have to look at everything that’s involved and decide if it’s worth doing.”

Gardner said big corporations don’t build their own airports because they are unprofitable. “We have a great airport where (General Manager) Randa Walker and her staff do a good job of taking care of the people who use it and of making sure their needs are met,” he said.

“It was never meant to be a big commercial airport.”

In their confab last Wednesday in the airport terminal building at 7000 Andrews Highway, one airport board member expressed concern that neighbors would protest the heavier traffic and that they would have to remove $800,000 in new runway approach lights financed by the Texas Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.

Landgraf said the runway would be lengthened to beef up the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Aircraft Operations Division in its efforts to enhance U.S.-Mexico border security and he said upgrading Schleymeyer would raise its annual funding eligibility from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration from $50,000 to $500,000.

The Republican District 81 representative said the $15 million “was probably more part of the $1.2 billion” that the Austin legislature appropriated for border security than it was from the $88.7 million it set aside in statewide aviation appropriations.

Schleymeyer’s other runways are the 5,003-foot No. 1634 and the 5,703-foot No. 0220.

Attending the Wednesday meeting with Stringer and Gardner, County Judge Debi Hays said the court should review what types of airplanes would use the longer runway and the frequency with which they would land; however, she said upon leaving the board room that she was “all for” the project.