Asheville airport to borrow $275M for improvements

Buncombe County seal

After the Asheville Regional Airport’s passenger numbers crashed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, falling to about 705,000 — less than half the 1.62 million who flew in 2019 — the airport saw those numbers climb to nearly 1.43 million in 2021. In expectation of further growth, the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority is now seeking to borrow up to $275 million to support facility renovations via revenue bonds.

While none of that debt will be the responsibility of Buncombe County taxpayers, the county Board of Commissioners must still approve the bond issue. Board members will consider the matter during their regular meeting of Tuesday, April 5.

According to minutes from a March 17 meeting of the airport authority, work to be financed with the money includes expansion and modernization of the terminal, construction of a central energy plant and a new air traffic control tower. No members of the public commented on the project during that meeting.

As previously reported by Xpress, the airport projects a need to more than double its roughly 113,000-square-foot terminal by 2038. A design update shared by the airport authority in March 2021 indicated that the facility would expand from 7 to 12 gates and upgrade areas such as its ticket lobby, security screening and baggage claim.

The airport received $10 million in federal grants for facility improvements in 2019. At the time Lew Bleiweis, the airport’s executive director, said his goal for the project was “to have shovels in the ground in 2021.” Work remains in the design phase, and the airport has yet to release an updated timeline.

In other news

Commissioners will be asked to authorize over $225,000 in new spending on the county’s cybersecurity. According to a staff report by Eric Grau, Buncombe’s information technology director, the money “will be used to acquire services, applications and tools to provide 24/7 network monitoring of malicious and suspicious activity, advanced threat detection, dark-web monitoring for compromised county data, and application vulnerability scanning.”

Although Buncombe County hasn’t yet been the victim of a major cyberattack, other North Carolina government units have been hit in recent years, including Haywood County Schools in August 2020. Buncombe established a dedicated security and standards division within its IT department in 2018.

The board will also vote to accept $445,000 from the Dogwood Health Trust to extend Buncombe’s existing Jail and Prison Re-Entry Program for an additional year. The effort is meant to cut rates of repeat offenders and expand health care access for those leaving incarceration.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains eight items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. In addition to the routine approval of previous meeting minutes, the agenda includes approval of a roughly $244,000 contract with Asheville-based Novus Architects to consult on maintenance projects at A-B Tech.

The commissioners will hold a closed session at 11 a.m. to consider confidential personnel matters. A 3 p.m. briefing follows to discuss the county’s COVID-19 response, plans for county-owned property on Ferry Road, property evaluations and land conservation. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

In-person public comment will be taken at the start of the regular meeting, which begins at 5 p.m. in Room 326 at 200 College St. in Asheville; no voicemail or email comments will be permitted. Both the briefing and regular meeting will be livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and will subsequently be available via YouTube.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the News Editor of Mountain Xpress, coordinating coverage of Western North Carolina's governments, community groups, businesses and environment. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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