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Expansion of Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport is Jan. 17

  • Holt Consulting/This graphic illustrates the final product of the expanded airport. The airport is expected to be completed by the end of 2019, but could be receiving planes as early as 2018.

After more than a decade of working with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the SCAC (South Carolina Aeronautics Commission), three consulting companies, and two proposed locations, the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport is officially breaking ground on its expansion 11 a.m., Tuesday, Jan. 17.

Dean, a Ridgeland native, was a World War II veteran who served as chairman of the Jasper County Aeronautics Commission. He died last September at the age of 94.

The project at the airport (10 Airport Road off Grays Highway) will include a new 4,200-foot runway and convert the current runway into an extended taxiway. The extended runway will allow bigger planes or helicopters to land – essentially it will allow business planes to land in Jasper.

The airport expansion has been a soughtafter project. Around 2004, the FAA and SCAC and Jasper County agreed that a larger airport was necessary to accommodate the rapid population and commercial growth the area was experiencing. Originally the plan was to move to a bigger location with less vegetation, but finding a location that passed a fatal flaw analysis and that landowners were willing to sell stalled the project.

After a few years of stalled progress, County Administrator Andy Fulghum teamed up with engineer and aviation consultant Ken Holt to reexamine a previous proposal to expand the original airport.

The expansion was approved by the county, FAA, and SCAC and Holt began working on the details of the project: conducting property analysis, creating budgets, and developing the construction plan.

The expansion will qualify the Ridgeland-Claude Dean Airport as general aviation, allowing for both commercial and non-commercial aircrafts and activity.

The classification better integrates the airport and air traffic into the FAA airport system. However, the expansion will not prevent current private fliers and pilots from using the runways. Most of the current hangers were built privately on land leased from the local aeronautics committee.

Four phases

The expansion consists of four phases, costing close to $20 million. The FAA will fund 90 percent of the cost through annual grants, which will be rewarded at the start of each fiscal year. Five percent of the cost will be covered by the SCAC, and the final 5 percent will be paid for by Jasper County.

“Before we got to the construction point, the first thing we had to do was purchase the property to make it happen,” said Fulgum. “We had to purchase seven fee-simple property - the main property was the Bedel Tracts – the rest of them were avigation easements – buying the air above people’s property. There were 60 different avigation easements. There were a couple, about 10, both fee-simple and avigation easements, in condemnation now – meaning they were purchased through eminent domain and settled through the courts.”

Phase 1 ($5.2 million) consists of clearing the area of vegetation and building retention ponds for water. Phase 2 ($4.2 million) consists of building the new runway and taxiways alongside the new runway. Phase 3 ($3.2 million) will convert the old runway into a taxiway and connect it to the new runway. Phase 4 ($4.3 million) will conclude the project by building a new terminal and entrance for the airport.

This entrance will be directly across from the high school school entrance off of Grays Highway and a traffic light will be installed at the new four-way intersection, along with the redirection of Wrong Road.

“We won’t ever do any commercial carriers (Delta, American Airlines, etc),” said Fulghum. “It’s designed for a Beechcraft King Air plane - the most widely used business aircraft.”

From groundbreaking to completion, the project is expected to be completed by 2019, but planes could land as early as 2018. The goal is to have the airport fully finished and self sufficient before the long awaited Jasper Port opens in 2025 - bringing with it an influx of commercial organizations.

“(Claude) knew the potential of what an expanded airport could do for Jasper County,” said Richard Dean, Claude Dean’s son, now the head of the Jasper County local aeronautics committee. “Like when a business wants to relocate, one of the first things they want to know is where the closest airport is. The county, state, and FAA are all on the same page. We need a bigger, better facility if were going to support the growth in the area.”

The public is invited to attend the groundbreaking.

“Knowing this is what he (Claude Dean) wanted to happen and see it move - its going to change the personality of the place - he knew that,” said Richard Dean. “That’s what he wanted, to see the community realize what a gem they had.”

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