New Tazewell celebrates its airport

By Jan Runions jrunions@civitasmedia.com

August 6, 2014

Whether floating along the air currents high above land or witnessing the activity up close at ground level, the New Tazewell Municipal Airport seemed to be having the perfect day for its second annual appreciation event.

The public came out Saturday to enjoy riding high in the sky, aerial shows, live music by Tazewell Pike and mingling among a wide variety of aircraft.

New Tazewell Mayor Jerry Beeler says the city put a good amount of “blood, sweat, tears and grant money” into transforming what was once a pastureland with a tiny strip of runway into a state-of-the art airport that attracts pilots from every walk of life.

“When I took over as mayor in 2006, the city was in the early stages of completing what became a five-year long project to extend the airport runway,” said Beeler, adding the initial 90/10 matching grant for $6.4 million eventually ballooned to some $9.6 million.

New Tazewell government began the process of acquiring land adjacent to the airport.

“It was a nightmare process. It seemed like every step of the way we ran into hurdles that had to be jumped. We had to move many, many tons of dirt to level the ground so that rainwater runoff wouldn’t affect the neighbors’ properties,” he said.

An inordinate amount of rainy weather hindered work, as well.

“Every time we moved forward with the project, it seemed some disaster would happen, like the guy we contracted with to move the dirt went bankrupt,” said Beeler.

Without the extensive knowledge of certified city building inspector Jerry Hooper, Beeler says, the project might have crash landed at any point along its arduous journey.

“When I came on as Mayor, I was basically thrown into it. I didn’t know the right way to go, but I jumped in with both feet and learned,” he said.

Today, the extended and resurfaced runway routinely accommodates twin-engines to Lear jets. The airport regularly plays host to area businessmen, politicians and stars.

“This airport is a vital part of the county. A little-known fact is, we’ve had local pilots fly critically ill people out of here to hospitals in different states, all at no charge,” said Beeler.

The airport currently boasts a maintenance hangar, a roomy office/conference room/lounge area, 16 T-hangars and a 24 hour aviation fueling service via an updated card reader system.

The airport manager, Mitch Edwards, is also a certified aircraft mechanic and veteran pilot.

The city expects to continue its renovation project with the addition of possibly 12 more hangars and the installation of an AWAS (Aviation Weather Avoidance Service) system.

And, fencing around the perimeter of the airport property will prevent problems with wild animals making their way onto the runway, he said.

The city receives some $13,000 in state grant money each year to maintain the airport, meaning no taxpayer funds are used, said Beeler.

Jan Runions may be reached at 423-626-3222 or Twitter @scribeCP.