|Following another lengthy public hearing and presentation for a proposed runway expansion of the Murfreesboro Municipal Airport, members of the Murfreesboro City Council unanimously decided to defer the matter until a later date.
A public hearing and presentation were held to further discuss expanding the airport runway, located off Memorial Boulevard on the northern side of Murfreesboro.
The City Council decided to hold off on the vote after Mayor Tommy Bragg noted Councilman Shane McFarland's absence due to his wife giving birth.
Bragg said deferring the issue until the next meeting would be best in order to provide the City Council the opportunity to debate the matter fully with McFarland, who could possible be the swing vote on the matter.
After some discussion with City Attorney Susan McGannon as to the proper procedure, Councilman Eddie Smotherman made such a motion, and it gained unanimous support.
The discussion began with Airport Executive Director Chad Gehrke, who detailed the needs and specific requests for the expansion. Gehrke said many residents had contacted his staff with questions and concerns about the plan, for which he provided answers.
Any rumors about whether large jets would be using the airport in the future are not true because the weight limits for the runway would remain well under the requirements for heavy traffic, Gehrke said.
He also detailed the findings of project consultants who determined that property values of nearby Murfreesboro residents would not be negatively impacted by the expansion.
Councilwoman Madelyn Scales-Harris raised several questions, including a request of Gehrke to give a safety rating, in his opinion, for the airport "between 1 and 10."
"I do not think it would be in the best interest of the city of Murfreesboro for Gehrke to answer such a question," McGannon interjected.
For his part, Gehrke simply said the airport "could always be safer."
"We drove cars for years with only seatbelts, and then we added airbags," he said. "That doesn't mean that those cars without airbags were not the safest they could be at the time, but we simply made them safer when new technology came about."
Bragg then opened the public hearing, which lasted for more than three hours, with supporters outnumbering opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 margin.
Several of the supporters who attended the public hearing live in the flight path. In addition, pilots who use the airport regularly urged the City Council to move ahead with the project for safety reasons.
Aviators and airport administrators said extending the runway to 5,000 feet from 3,900 feet would give added safety to pilots who experience engine failures during takeoff and must immediately land their aircraft, which they described as a somewhat regular occurrence.
Paul Neely, of Shagbark Trail, an aviator with United Parcel Service, said the major reason for expanding the runway is safety during takeoff, not landing.
"Engine failure during takeoff is a major concern," he said. "Ninety-nine out of 100 aviators will tell you this project is all about safety, not about increased operations."
Neely added that the "noise for residents will not be changing."
Other said pilots must currently choose between landing their plane in the grass or crash landing in the Evergreen Cemetery on Highland Avenue, according to the Municipal Airport's current safety master plan.
"I had an engine failure with three young children on board," Bob Kinney said. "I was able to land the plane safely because the engine failure was not catastrophic, but 1,000 extra feet of runway would have been a real benefit to me and those children."
Resident Jim Gardner, who said he lives and owns other houses within the Municipal Airport's flight path, also supported the expansion.
He said, "if a longer runway and its greater safety could save just one life then its worth it."
The City Council also received letters of support from Murfreesboro residents, including hometown NASA astronaut Robert "Hoot" Gibson and John Black, executive director of the Smyrna Airport.
Those against the expansion cited noise and property value concerns for those living near the airport.
"I am awakened at night by aircraft flying over my house, even after taking out my two hearing aids," said Steve Murphy, of Bradford Place.
Although Murphy acknowledged he purchased his house knowing that the Municipal Airport was in full operation, he said many of his neighbors have already sold their homes as a result of the expansion proposal out of frustration.
"I am not satisfied with the answers provided by Gehrke and his staff in light of our concerns," he said.