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NAPLES — All three Collier County airports are ready for takeoff, thanks to federal grants.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that the Collier County Airport Authority has been awarded two grants for a total of about $8 million to rehabilitate the Immokalee and Marco Island airports.
The Immokalee Regional Airport received a $6.6 million grant to rehabilitate the runway and Marco Island Airport received a $1.49 million grant to improve the main apron, according to a DOT notification.
“The investment in new infrastructure demonstrates a commitment from the FAA, (state) DOT and Collier County to the advancement of the Immokalee Regional Airport,” said Airports Executive Director Chris Curry, who has been with county government since 2010. “These agencies recognize the importance of this asset to the development of the community.”
The Collier County authority oversees airports in Immokalee, Marco Island and Everglades City; a separate city airport authority oversees Naples Municipal Aiport.
The $6.6 million Immokalee runway rehabilitation must be worked on during the coming fiscal year and finished by September 2014. Other Immoklaee airport improvements include airfield lighting, grading and drainage, additional fencing, improvement of the taxiway connectors and decoupling the two runways, Curry said.
The entire Immokalee Regional Airport project is estimated to cost $8 million, with county government investing $800,000.
Commissioner Tim Nance, whose distict includes Immokalee, said the rehabilitated runway — its width will be reduced from 150 feet to 100 feet — at the Immokalee airport “alone” will not be a major economic driver, but is part of the picture.
“It is an important element in the whole future economic airport package,” Nance said.
Construction workers at the Immokalee airport will have leeway because the closing of the runway and main taxiway won’t affect air traffic significantly, since the airport has another operating runway, Curry said.
Construction at the airports will create jobs, though how many is still unknown.
“Jobs will be created with the construction that will occur at all three airports,” Curry said. “Certainly jobs will be created thereafter with the attraction of businesses.”
Moreover, he said, the Immokalee airport serves as a complement to the Seminole Casino Immokalee, Ave Maria residents and visitors, and to the new Arthrex plant.
“Building and maintaining good quality roads, bridges and airports creates jobs today and also attracts employers and businesses that will bring even more jobs tomorrow,” Florida U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said in an email.
Construction at the Marco Island Executive Airport would start when it wouldn’t affect the majority of seasonal customers, Curry said.
Another grant is pending for rehabilitation of the runway at Marco Island airport. Curry said that project would cost about $4.3 million.
Two weeks ago, Everglades City airport received a nearly $257,000 grant from the FAA to construct the south taxiway.
In the midst of these improvement projects, Curry’s contract with Collier County commissioners to oversee the three airports expires this month.
Regardless, he said, his team has “set the Collier County Airport Authority on a path for success.”
“This is a tremendous amount of money that we received in just one year for the development of all three airports,” Curry said.
As of Tuesday, the Collier Airport Authority had received $8.4 million this year from the FAA. Since the FAA’s involvement with the airports began, Curry said, the county’s airports have received a total of $10.8 million.