Asheville airport to update county on COVID-19 impacts

Buncombe County seal

After a startling upward climb in passenger numbers at the Asheville Regional Airport — a 43% increase from 2018 to 2019, for an all-time record total of roughly 1.6 million — the airport has entered an equally unprecedented nosedive due to COVID-19. At the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, June 16, airport leaders are scheduled to give an update on their handling of the crisis.

According to a presentation available before the meeting, the airport saw a near-total cessation of traffic for about 8 weeks during the initial wave of the pandemic. Data from the Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority shows that just 1,210 people boarded a plane at the airport in April, the latest month for which information is available. That number marks a 98% decrease from the 61,230 enplanements reported in April 2019.

Despite the plummeting passenger totals, airport officials have maintained service to all but three of AVL’s 21 pre-pandemic destinations: Boston, New York City and Vero Beach, Fla. The airport received over $14.4 million in federal coronavirus relief money, and its existing financial reserves could cover six months of operating expenses.

The presentation acknowledges that air traffic could take up to four years to recover fully. However, AVL’s leaders say they remain focused “on supporting airlines’ success when business begins to return and [building] back the strength of the airport for our region.”

In other news

While the city of Asheville has postponed the passage of its fiscal year 2020-21 budget, opting instead for an interim plan as officials consider community input on police spending, Buncombe leaders are moving ahead with a public hearing on the proposed county budget. As Xpress has previously reported, next year’s budget stands at nearly $335.65 million, a reduction of roughly 1.1% from the current fiscal year. Property taxes are proposed to remain flat at 52.9 cents per $100 of valuation, although residents living in the Upper Hominy fire district could see a 2-cent rate increase to pay for staffing needs.

Commissioners are likely to follow the city’s suit, however, in passing a resolution to remove local Confederate monuments and establish a joint task force to determine the fate of the Vance Monument. Asheville City Council unanimously approved the joint resolution on June 9; according to reporting by the Citizen Times, all four of the board’s Democratic members have said they will support the measure.

The board will also consider two substantial budget amendments for county capital projects. The first would devote nearly $836,000 for Rochester, N.Y.-based CPL Architecture to conduct a comprehensive facility plan for up to 2 million square feet of Buncombe buildings. The second would pay CPL $243,000 to design a new complex for the county’s fleet services, to be located at the site of the old Buncombe County Landfill in Woodfin.

Consent agenda and public comment

The board’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 10 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include the following resolutions:

  • A contract award of nearly $218,000 to Columbia, S.C.-based CGL Companies for a comprehensive needs assessment of the Buncombe County Detention Facility. The study would examine on- and off-site options for expanding the jail, as well as flexible options for the current space.
  • Funding of over $73,000 to support the Asheville Rides Transit Leicester Highway Extension from July 1 through June 30, 2021. According to a staff report available before the meeting, COVID-19 has greatly impacted ridership on the route, with just 60 riders boarding at the four stops on the two-mile extension through the entire month of April.
  • An application for $195,000 from the state education lottery capital fund to support the addition of three classrooms at Estes Elementary. The new space would allow reductions in K-3 class sizes.

The commission will also hold a briefing at 3 p.m., during which members will review the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed plan for the Nantahala and Pisgah national forests, the county’s fee schedule for the next fiscal year and a $382,000 grant from the Dogwood Health Trust for paramedics trained in opioid response. The full agenda and supporting documents for the regular meeting can be found at this link.

For the first time since March 17, members of the public will be allowed to attend the 5 p.m. regular meeting in person at 200 College St. The board will accept public comment during the budget hearing and “may allow interested persons to make public comment on other agenda items.” All comment will be conducted in accordance with local declarations regarding COVID-19 and mass gatherings.

The meetings will be also livestreamed on the county’s Facebook page and through BCTV. Comment by electronic means (limit of 350 words) will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Monday, June 15, via email at comment@buncombecounty.org or voicemail at 828-250-6500.

SHARE

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.