Concern over sequestration's impact on the Federal Aviation Administration control tower at the Dothan Regional Airport has delayed the announcement of a new industry for Dothan.
According to Dothan Regional Airport Director Art Morris, the planned announcement on Friday was cancelled Thursday due to a delay request from the business prospect.
“The prospect has requested a delay until we find out the status of our control tower,” Morris said.
Morris confirmed Dothan's tower is expected to be on a list (to be released March 4) of towers to be closed by the FAA on April 1.
He said that doesn't mean the tower will be closed, as a deal could be worked out before April 1, but for now the economic development project is on hold.
Dothan Mayor Mike Schmitz said the city commission will still meet at 10 a.m. on Friday to approve incentives for the project.
“The prospective employer wants to see how sequestration may affect aviation," Schmitz said. "As you know, the city of Dothan control tower is on a list of possible closures. It’s just on a list, but they want to see how this is resolved. We’re going to resolve this.”
State Rep. Paul Lee, R-Dothan, described the issues facing the business which is planning to relocate to Dothan.
“There are some strenuous regulations dealing with the FAA and their type of work, and they have rules and regulations with their manufacturing,” Lee said. “They want to make sure, once they commit to Dothan, that there is no downtime. They want to leave where they’re leaving from, come here and go to work without a gap in between.”
Dothan Area Chamber of Commerce President Matt Parker said the decision to delay the event is beneficial for all parties involved.
“There is a circumstance, unfortunately, that is beyond our control that needs to be clarified, and it really relates to the sequestering,” Parker said.
The potential problems related to sequestration came up during meetings last week, but they came to the forefront just a day before the planned announcement of the economic development project.
“We’ve got questions we just can’t answer on that,” Parker said. “I really can’t tell you what the resolution on sequestering will be and what the impact will be on our area.”
City and state officials remain optimistic about the project.
“I can tell you that the company looking to make Dothan its home is still committed to coming, the City of Dothan and the State of Alabama are committed to make this happen,” Lee said.
Those close to the project said there is no reason to think the project is in serious jeopardy at this time.
“Everybody’s committed to try to make this thing happen,” Parker said. “I haven’t seen any indication on wavering or anything, it’s just getting clarification on how to best resolve this issue that’s before us.”
Morris said 189 towers will be on the FAA’s list.
Wiregrass and state officials were set to reveal a “major economic develop announcement” at 10:30 a.m. Friday, but the event was cancelled Thursday afternoon.
The Airport Authority was to accept a $7.565 million Industrial Development Grant from the State of Alabama. The authority was also expected to approve a “bridge loan” for the project until permanent financing was secured.
Morris said the tower situation must be resolved “before we can resume with this project,” but stressed that the airport could still operate without the tower.
“You can operate an uncontrolled airport,” he said.
Houston County Commission Chairman Mark Culver said the burden now is on the federal government.
“(The delay) certainly is disappointing, but we’re still encouraged that the company wants to be part of our community, and if we can just get the folk in Washington to straighten out the issues impacting the situation, we can move forward,” Culver said.
U.S. Rep. Martha Roby, R-Montgomery, said in a statement that the listing of air traffic control towers which could be shut down is part of “President Obama’s campaign to scare Congress into passing another tax increase.”
“I appreciate Mayor Schmitz and the Chamber leadership for their hard work in recruiting this new industry to Dothan. It is outrageous that President Obama’s sequestration scare tactics are causing this uncertainty and delaying much needed jobs from coming to the Wiregrass,” Roby said in the statement. “I voted against the bill that included the President’s sequestration plan because I believe there is a smarter way to reduce government spending than arbitrary, across the board cuts. This is the same bureaucracy, the FAA, that, under the Obama Administration, spent $5 million on a Christmas party. Don’t tell me there aren’t ways to cut actual waste from the budget without threatening this ‘doomsday’ scenario.”
Dothan Eagle reporter Lancer Griffin contributed to this story.