HIGHGATE — Plans are coming into focus for two projects at the Franklin County State Airport that could have major impacts on the region’s economy.
On March 18, the Highgate Selectboard met with state legislators and officials to discuss funding to extend water and sewer lines from Missisquoi Valley High School to the airport, a project that would cost about $3.4 million.
The water and sewer project, according to airport manager Cliff Coy, is a necessity to support the second project — extension, revitalization and expansion of the airport.
Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin, said the two separate but connected projects, once completed, would pave the way for drastic improvements to the community and Franklin County’s economic infrastructure, encouraging more business to move to Highgate and the surrounding area.
“Economic growth is good,” Parent said. “... Moving the water and sewer line that much closer — they have a couple of other manufacturing companies, and if water gets closer to those, they have the potential to expand. It’s a pretty minor investment to make for this opportunity for the town. The return on investment will be big.”
Airport set for expansion
Improvements in that second project include runway reconstruction, widening the airport runway by 15 feet, runway and taxiway extension 1,001 feet to the south, all new lighting and electrical work, a new fence that will tie in the north end of the airport, six 60-by-60-foot hangers and three 60-by-80-foot hangers. According to Kyle Wells, Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) project manager for the Franklin County State Airport, the entire project is estimated to cost $8.5 million, and will be paid for via grants from the Federal Aviation Administration.
Wells said they’re already obtaining easements for 23 parcels of land around the airport, which Parent said is a strong indicator the parcels are intended for business development.
Parent likened the project’s potential development to the creation of the St. Albans Industrial Park, which he said added hundreds of millions of dollars to the grand list and created jobs throughout the region.
“There’s a reason we have such a low tax rate in St. Albans Town,” Parent said. “It’s because of the grand list ... It’s good for the whole region. This is good for the whole county.”
Tree removal is anticipated for the winter of 2022 and 2023, and construction for airport expansion is anticipated in 2023, Wells said.
Water and sewer lines needed
Currently, according to airport co-manager Kevin Dwyer, the airport operates using a non-potable water system and a single septic tank, which could limit the feasibility of some aspects of the project such as potential business development.
The water and sewer project has already secured $507,107 in grant funding from the Northern Border Regional Commission, and according to a table provided by Highgate Town Manager Heidi Britch-Valenta, three other sources are pending: $1 million capital investment allocation from AOT budget that is working its way through the legislature, $500,000 from the Vermont Community Development Program block implementation grant, and $1.7 million from the Economic Development Administration.
A bond vote for $507,107, which will happen this year, is necessary to secure the $1.7 million from the Economic Development Administration, Britch-Valenta said.
During the March 18 meeting, officials discussed using American Rescue Plan funds to go toward the water and sewer project. Highgate is getting $360,000 from the American Rescue Plan and Swanton is receiving $650,000, according to figures provided by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Franklin County is getting an additional $9.58 million, between the agency of administration and state government, according to Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin.
“It’s still not entirely certain the exact uses, but it would seem as though this kind of infrastructure project is just the kind of thing that fund had in mind,” Brock said during the March 18 meeting.
“Between the state and the northern border grants, we’ve already funded more than half of the project,” Parent said.
Jeff Carr, president and senior economist with the firm Economic and Policy Resources, said the overall development and projects are a goldmine of opportunity, and investing in the water and sewer project was a very intelligent move.
It would also be a move that wouldn’t financially bury the town.
“If you total up the money that came from CARES Act 1, CARES Act 2, and now if we believe the estimates from Sen. Leahy’s office for the American Recovery Plan, it’s over $5.3 billion dollars,” Carr said. “And that’s just what we can count with our statewide, state-by-state data.”