The lead paragraph of a story in the Banner in March 2000 stated “Add another person to Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland's list of supporters for a new airport.”
Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist flew into Hardwick Field March 13, 2000. He had no problem acknowledging the airport needed improvement.
"We have greater need in Bradley County for an airport than anyplace else in the state," Sundquist said. "The airport here is miserable."
But it would be another four years before an Airport Authority would meet for the first time, on Oct. 6, 2004. The first meeting was a discussion of how to better Hardwick Field.
The original members included Lynn Devault, Lou Patten, Jim Sharpe, Mike McCoy and LeRoy Rymer Jr. The Airport Authority received its incorporation papers Oct. 7, 2004, from Tennessee Secretary of State Riley Darnell.
- Several possible plans for renovating Hardwick Field Airport were presented to the Airport Authority and dozens of concerned community members on Jan. 28, 2005.
Mark Paslick and Tim Haskell with HMB Professional Engineers Inc. of Nashville made the presentation.
Neighbors near the Hardwick Field requested the Authority look at purchasing a new site.
"The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) wants you to prove or disprove that you can do it on the existing site," said Paslick. "That's why we're concentrating on that right now."
The community of Cleveland has been looking for an adequate site to build a new airport for 28 years, with no success, added Chairwoman Lynn DeVault.
"Probably, if it doesn't happen on the existing site, it won't happen," she said.
Paslick and Haskell presented five alternatives to the existing site:
Option 4A — a 1,700-foot extension of the existing runway and taxiway, and landslide facilities on the east side.
Option 4B — the construction of a 5,000-foot runway (300 feet west of the existing runway) and the use of the current runway for a parallel taxiway.
Option 4C — a 1,700-foot extension of the existing runway, a full parallel taxiway west of the existing runway. In this option, all terminal facilities would be located on the west side of the airport.
Option 4D - construction of a 5,000-foot runway (240 feet west of the existing runway) with all terminal facilities constructed on the west side. This option is the only one which would allow the airport to stay in operation during most of, if not all of, the construction process, according to Haskell.
Option 4E - the construction of a 5,000-foot runway (240 feet west of the existing runway) and all terminal facilities constructed on the east side of the airport.
- It was stated Cleveland might have a new airport by 2010. The Airport Authority met April 21, 2006, to discuss the timeline for building a new facility.
According to Airport Authority Chairman Lynn DeVault, the master plan for the new airport was brought to the state aeronautics board, and a draft submitted to the FAA as well.
The property for the new airport went through a yearlong environmental assessment, which could not take place until the land was purchased. Requests for money to buy the land, as well as maintain the existing airport needs, were submitted to the state.
"We hope to be ready to roll in about a year," DeVault said.
- The City of Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority received the last of the signed land options July 11, 2006. However, the process was halted until the Bradley County Regional Planning Commission approved rezoning the land.
Patten explained the plans for the new general aviation airport would be delayed two weeks.
- Thunderous applause rocked the Bradley County Courthouse Aug. 1, 2006, until it was realized the Planning Commission’s failure to endorse rezoning for a new Cleveland general aviation airport would not kill it.
The Airport Authority requested to rezone contracted property from Farming/Agricultural/Residential to Special Impact Industrial (I-2).
A delegation of 50 to 60 opponents crowded into the courthouse meeting room. The opposition’s presentation was orchestrated by Cleveland attorney Richard Fisher, Michelle Rosenbaum of the Royal Oaks Subdivision and a handful of nearby residents.
- A draft document in August 2006 showed the proposed general aviation airport in the Tasso area would be developed in three phases over a period of 15 years.
According to the Cleveland Municipal Airport Financial Implementation Plan, the three phases were divided into five-year increments, with the bulk of the activity in Phase I in the fiscal years 2007 to 2011.
According to the draft plan, the Phase I start date was dependent on completion of an environmental assessment, survey, appraisal, review appraisal and acquisition. Site preparation work includes excavation of the runway, associated safety areas, parallel taxiway, aircraft apron, access road and parking areas. Paving, installation of security fencing and electronic access systems, construction of the terminal building and eight hangars of various sizes would complete Phase I.
The second and third phases were for planned hangar construction.
- The Airport Authority passed a major hurdle Aug. 21, 2006. Much to the chagrin of opponents of the airport effort, the Bradley County Commission approved a rezoning request for the Airport Authority on property it had a contract to purchase along Michigan Avenue Road.
The vote was 10 to 4. Commissioners Howard Thompson and Jim Smith voted against the rezoning, along with Commissioners Roy Smith and Ginger Buchanan.
The vote allowed the Airport Authority to progress to its next hurdle of obtaining a state and federal environmental impact assessment statement. Officials at the time said noise, water and traffic are among challenges to the project.
DeVault emphasized the Commission was not approving an airport, but just another step in a five-step process.
“Step 1 was finding willing sellers,” DeVault said of the contracts to purchase the land needed for the airport. “This (the rezoning) is step 2. It will be four to five years before a new Cleveland airport will be operational.
“Step 3 will be to obtain an environmental assessment on the property,” continued DeVault. She pointed out the process of obtaining environmental approval would include public meetings, where residents of the Tasso community could continue to voice their concerns about an airport.
Step 4 was finalizing plans for construction. Step 5 was seeking state and federal funding, and starting construction.
- Circuit Court Judge John Hagler dismissed a lawsuit in March 2007 against the Airport Authority and Bradley County Commission.
“I have no concept in my mind that would allow this action to go forward,” he said when announcing his decision.
Hagler ruled Bradley County resident Frankie Lewis was without legal standing since he was not a resident of the city of Cleveland and paid no city taxes. Lewis was also not a property owner in Bradley County. He suffered no special injury. No illegalities were alleged. No demands were made to correct any illegalities.
The judge said Lewis filed the suit based only on his position as a county and state taxpayer. That line of reasoning would allow anyone in the state to bring a lawsuit against the Airport Authority. Hagler said the court had no authority to substitute its judgment in place of a decision arrived at by a duly appointed entity.
- Gov. Phil Bredesen announced April 11, 2007, that the state would provide an Aeronautics Grant in the amount of $4.35 million for preliminary engineering of an environmental assessment and property acquisition.
- A long career in aviation slowed down in May 2007 when J.C. Garrison, operator and manager of Hardwick Field since 1972, stepped down along with members of his immediate family. His wife, Nell, was his major assistant after they took over the airport in 1972. Son Robby and daughter Trish also assisted the longtime aviator over the years.
The elder Garrison said he was saddened by future aviation prospects at Hardwick Field after having such high expectations when he and his family moved to Cleveland 35 years earlier.
- Crystal Air was selected April 20, 2007 to operate the local airport at Hardwick Field beginning May 1.
Crystal Air was one of three who replied to the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority’s request for qualification. The other two were R.G. William Wolf of Cleveland and Flight Schools USA of Collegedale.
Taylor Newman, Crystal Air president and director of operations, was the only one of the three applicants at the Airport Authority meeting. However, attendance was not required for consideration.
- Verrill Norwood was sworn in Oct. 19, 2007, as a member of the Airport Authority by Rowland. Norwood was selected by the mayor to replace local developer Jim Sharp. Sharp was one of the five original members of the board when it was established by the City Council in September 2004.
As chief negotiator, Sharp took the lead in securing land options and price agreements with property owners in the land acquisition phase.
- The airport entered the design phase in November 2007. The year 2008 was termed “the year of the permit” by Mark Paslick of PDC Consultants. He said there would be no visible activity on the airport site with the exception of some core drilling, surveyors and archaeologists.
“That’s all the activity you will see next year,” he said. “All of 2008 will be permitting,” he said. “We’ll turn in a request for final design ... hopefully over the winter in December, January, February and March, then start construction in April 2009.”
- A lawsuit challenging the Airport Authority and Bradley County Commission was dismissed in state appeals court Sept. 11, 2008.
Attorney Richard Fisher appealed Hagler’s earlier ruling on behalf of resident Frankie Lewis against the Airport Authority and Bradley County Commission on Oct. 19, 2006, after the property was rezoned from Forestry Agriculture Residential to Special Impact Industrial District. Herbert Haney later joined the suit.
In writing the Court of Appeals of Tennessee's 25-page opinion, Judge D. Michael Swiney dismissed all six claims.
- Gov. Phil Bredesen said June 9, 2009, FAA grants totaling $7.4 million approved for construction of the airport were vital to the economy and travel system of Tennessee.
The two federal grants of $4.2 million and $3.2 million funded the first phase of construction.
- Rolling Hills residents, who successfully staved off a small subdivision in their backyards, would instead have a wetland area and walking trail if the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority was successful in obtaining an option on the 13th fairway of the old Rolling Hills Golf Course.
Engineering consultant Mark Paslick told members of the Airport Authority July 17, 2009 that people in adjacent neighborhoods around the golf course were favorable to mitigating the loss of 10.47 acres of low-grade wetland to the 21 acre-site inside Cleveland city limits.
The mitigation plan called for half of the site to be transformed into bottomland hardwood forest with trees planted at a density of 400 trees per acre or about 4,000 trees. An expanded cart path would circle the site. There were also plans for a three-foot buffer zone on either side of the path to be kept mowed by the city of Cleveland, much like the walking path alongside Home Depot off Paul Huff Parkway.
Mosquitoes and other insects would be controlled by natural means. The water features are fed by underground streams that help keep them from becoming stagnant.
Airport construction impacted 2,283 feet of the Little Chatata Creek, 940 feet of an unnamed tributary and the wetland.
The wetland mitigation plan was moved from a 22.83-acre parcel off Shelton Road in Marion County to Rolling Hills.
The option to purchase called for buying the property from Ron Barker for $317,000 using grant funds available through the federal government. Rolling Hills neighbors successfully fought to keep Barker from building "The Willows" subdivision. He withdrew a permit request in September 2007.
The city was given the option to purchase the property for $300,000 in April 2008. The appraised value of the property then was $305,000. The 2009 appraised value was $319,000.
The mitigation project was slowed by numerous delays. It is expected to be completed in early 2013.
- The contract for the first phase of construction of the Cleveland Municipal Airport was signed Nov. 20, 2009. Wright Brothers Construction Company Inc., of Charleston, submitted a bid of $5,729,782 to install the main culvert under the runway, realign the stream and build a small portion to reroute a stream back to the Little Chatata, relocate water and electric lines and move Old Tasso Road farther north.
Airport Authority members were hopeful work would begin in October 2009. However, the contract was not signed until November. Winter weather delayed the start date.
In addition to the construction contract, Patten signed the wetlands mitigation agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
- The city of Cleveland officially took ownership of the former Rolling Hills Golf Course in Jan. 2010.
All required environmental permits were issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. An appeal of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permit filed by the Tennessee Clean Water Network on behalf of John Moore and Erin Fuller was not holding up construction, according to TDEC Spokesperson Meg Lockhart.
- A ceremonial groundbreaking for the Cleveland Municipal Airport was delayed until sometime in May, but the real work began April 19, 2010.
Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority Chair Lynn DeVault said it seemed it had taken a long time to get to that juncture, "but I'm very glad to be to this point."
However, a groundbreaking ceremony never happened.
- The Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority took less than five minutes on Sept. 20, 2010, to award the contract for the second phase of airport construction to Wright Brothers. The contract was signed Oct. 15, 2010.
The Wright Brothers bid came in at $5,481,380, which was 17.6 percent below the engineering estimate of $6.649 million.
The length of the contract was 270 calendar days. Phase II included excavation of 2.2 million cubic yards of dirt, erosion control and storm-drain piping, relocation of 285 linear feet of a nearby tributary and construction of a 5-foot by 5-foot, 806-foot long box culvert. The work was to encompass an area of about 200 acres.
- Patten showed a computer-generated conceptual drawing of the new terminal facility to the full authority Sept. 16, 2011. He described the building as a “beautiful front door for our folks coming into our airport. We are real pleased with it.
“We think the layout is going to be very user friendly for the fix-based operator, for the line people, pilots and for visitors,” Patten said.
The design by Rardin & Carroll Architects, of Chattanooga, captured the uniqueness of East Tennessee that was wanted by the authority.
“It is beautiful and unique and it looks like this part of the world,” DeVault said.
- TDOT announced more than $6 million in federal and state funds Oct. 23, 2011, for constructing the terminal building, sewer line and the final phase of construction.
The grant included a $70,000 50-50 state and local match of $35,000 each for sewer design; $700,000 50-50 state and local matching funds ($350,000 each) for design and construction of the terminal building; and $5,555,555 90-10 matching grant for Phase III construction, which included paving the runway, apron and terminal area.
The three grants totaled $6,325,555. Of that amount, the city was responsible for $975,555. The commissioner previously released $97,500 in the form of a 75-25 matching grant to pay Barbara Fritsche, Fritsche Consulting of Fort Thomas, Ky., for developing a business plan for the general aviation airport.
- Cleveland Regional Jetport was selected as the name of the new airport on Dec. 16, 2011.
DeVault said consultants didn’t think Cleveland Municipal Airport sounded important enough. Two suggestions were Cleveland/Southeast Tennessee Regional Jetport or Southeast Tennessee Jetport.
CMAA member LeRoy Rymer said from a pilot’s perspective, the name should be kept simple and Cleveland should be in the name because pilots identify airports by city.
Additionally, he said the name will be printed on navigation charts, which is another reason to keep it short.
DeVault explained she liked “jetport” because for so many years, Cleveland had not been able to land jets at Hardwick Field.
“I would like pilots to [immediately] know they can land jets at the new airport,” she said.
- J&J Construction of Chattanooga was selected April 20, 2012, from among seven competitive bids.
The total bid was $2.412 million. The job was divided into three categories: site preparation, security and the terminal building. Site preparation and security were funded through matching grants. The terminal building, which came in at slightly less than $1.9 million, was funded through a $700,000 grant and private donations.
As far as runway construction, Hinkle Contracting Co., Paris, Ky., was on-site to begin work on that $7.055 million contract, which included building the 5,500-foot by 100-foot runway, a full parallel taxiway 35 feet in width and an apron area 317 feet by 982 feet wide.
According to a list compiled by Dr. Tim Viser, there were 84 aircraft registered in the county. Of that group, some were no longer airworthy. Of the 62 aircraft available locally, he said 26 were at Hardwick Field and 10 were based out of the area. He said only 35 of the 62 were available to relocate. Sixteen were corporate and eight of those said they would not relocate and four were undecided. There were 19 aircraft owned by individuals. Of those, 11 said they would not relocate because they could not afford the new lease rates; seven others also said no and one offered a maybe.
- The three-letter identifier assigned to the Cleveland Regional Jetport by the FAA is RZR, which led to the Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority coming up with the slogan: “Cleveland Regional Jetport, the cutting edge of aviation.”
The three-letter identifier was selected from the choices of EIV, OQP, PMF, PZF, PZW and RZR. Each airport identifier is unique and no two letters can be the same between two airports within 200 miles of one another. To ensure there is equity concerning the letters, the letters are given to new airports in a completely random, computerized manner.
The Airport Authority selected the three-letter combination May 16, 2012, during a meeting called to settle concerns with the Cleveland Airport Owners and Pilots Association over the terms of hanger lease agreements.
However, the association’s attorney, Tad Wintermeyer of Chattanooga, was unable to attend the meeting because of the illness of a family member.
The loose association of pilots and owners wanted an agreement patterned after the airport in Tullahoma. That agreement provided for an initial 20-year lease and the option for an additional 20 years at market rate. The CMAA offered a 30-year lease arrangement for hangars and land.
- The former manager of Fayette County Airport near Somerville in Western Tennessee became the director of operations and marketing at Cleveland Regional Jetport on June 14. Mark Fidler brought with him about 48 years’ experience managing airline dispatch offices for Northwest Airlink, and flying for Braniff, FedEx, and as a corporate pilot for Fortune 500 companies. He came with about 10,000 hours of flight time.
He managed the Fayette County Airport near Somerville for five years. Fidler’s was one of 24 resumes received by the Airport Authority after advertising for the position.
- Ronnie Fitzgerald, of PDC Consultants, reported Hinkle Contracting Co., of Paris, Ky., finished pouring concrete Nov. 15, 2012. At that time, about 123,800 square yards of concrete were in place. Local concrete was set to be used in remaining areas such as the pad for a fuel truck and hangars. Cleveland Regional Jetport is Hinkle’s last job before it becomes a regional platform of Summit Materials.
- An airport manager and fixed-base operator will manage Cleveland Regional Jetport after its grand opening on Jan. 25, 2013.
Cleveland Municipal Airport Authority members also voted Dec. 3, 2012 on a hybrid arrangement between airport manager Mark Fidler and Crystal Air, which will continue as the FBO.
Crystal Air will monitor the hourly need per day for FBO services, but would initially start by staffing the airport from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Staff would include one full-time and three part-time personnel.