County could exchange runway extension money for new sheriff’s training center

By Megan Alley
Sun staff

The Clermont County Commissioners are asking state leaders to reallocate $500,000 in state funding for a runway extension project at the county airport to a new project that would build a safety and training center for the sheriff’s office.

During their meeting on Jan. 17, the commissioners authorized Thomas Eigel, interim county administrator, to send letters on the board’s behalf to State Senator Joseph Uecker and State Representative Doug Green, asking for the reallocation.

The funds were part of the 2014 State Capital Bill Allocation and were identified as “Clermont County Airport Improvements” in the 130th General Assembly Amended House Bill 497.

The original intent of the runway project was to extend it by 1,440 feet to accommodate jets, Andy Kuchta, Clermont County Department of Community and Economic Development director, said in a presentation to the commissioners.

The current length of the runway is 3,550 feet and only allows for prop planes.

County representatives figured that housing jets at the county airport could attract more corporate headquarters to the area. That and the University of Cincinnati Clermont showed early interest in increasing their flight school training to include jet certification.

However, after significant research done alongside airport design experts, county representatives came to the conclusion that the runway expansion project was infeasible.

The most that the runway could be expanded was 1,294 feet, which would allow some jets. However, that length would not be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration because it would intrude on the Runway Protection Zone over Old State Route 71 and state Route 32 – a trapezoidal area “off the end of the runway that’s meant to protect people and property on the ground should an aircraft land or crash beyond the runway end.”

Another option presented was to extend the runway by 444 feet, to avoid the RPZ, but that length would not allow any jets, and would still require FAA approval, which was unlikely because the project must show “purpose and need,” rather than a “build it and they will come” situation, Kuchta said.

Additionally, during the planning process, UC Clermont reneged on their plans to included jet certification.

Now, the commissioners are heeding a request from Sheriff Steve Leahy that the funds be used to build his department a safety and training center on the site of the old county animal shelter on Filager Road.

It’s been some time now that the department has been searching for a permanent home for a safety and training center, Leahy said.

Recently, the department was making plans to repurpose pre-manufactured buildings that had been previously used by the Common Pleas Clerk of Courts, Domestic Relations Division, but that option proved cost prohibitive.

With this new plan, Leahy hopes to build a 3,500 square foot building that will accommodate in-house training for classroom work, firearms, use of force, state mandated continued professional education, as well as an area for defensive tactics training and the multi-jurisdictional corrections academy.

Building estimates are about $500,000 to $520,000.

“We thought, OK, if we’re going to do something, let’s look big picture, long term, rather than piecemealing something together,” Leahy said. “It just makes it so much nicer if we could do a one-stop shop.”

He added, “I would much rather have nothing, rather than build something and then come back a year later and tell the county I need more.”

County officials could hear back from the state as early as the next month or two, if the reallocations are included in the 2018 State Capital Bill Allocation, Kuchta said.

If not, it would need to be attached to some other piece of legislation, and that timeline is unknown.

“I hope that it works. I think there’s a lot of potential there,” Leahy said. “It would be a win-win for the county and for county law enforcement. Hopefully it works out.”