“Aviation is really important” | Town of Oak Ridge gets closer to construction of new airport

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The city hopes a new airport will connect innovation in the region to business leaders.

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. – Oak Ridge City Council voted to approve $ 60,000 in legal fees to take land from a railroad for a proposed airport.

The Department of Energy owns the land for the proposed airport and plans to transfer it to the city if the airport project is approved.

Jeff Smith was deputy director of operations at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and vice president of the Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority.

Smith said Oak Ridge is the largest community in Tennessee without a general aviation airport.

The proposed airport would not carry large passenger flights. Instead, it would support general aviation planes, used by business leaders to fly across the country.

Smith said his goal is to connect innovation at Oak Ridge with the rest of the country.

“There is a tremendous technological resource in the form of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Y-12, the University of Tennessee,” Smith said. “This airport is … another asset that we can put in the middle of the Oak Ridge corridor that will help people take advantage of their immense talent and the technological information that exists there.”

Smith said that despite the innovation happening here, he feared Tennessee might be seen as a “flyover state” for scientists and entrepreneurs.

“There’s a lot going on in Silicon Valley, and there’s a lot going on in New York City and Chicago,” Smith said. “They’re literally flying over Tennessee because no one really takes the time to get in.”

The Oak Ridge City Manager said aviation is important to Oak Ridge’s economic growth.

“This is a great opportunity for the region,” said Dr. Mark Watson.

The proposed airport would replace the K-25 gas diffusion plant, which was used to enrich uranium for atomic bombs in the Manhattan Project.

The Department of Energy completed the demolition of the plant in 2013.

“We have the ability to reimagine it and re-develop it into a working facility for the region,” said Dr Watson.

If all goes as planned, Dr Watson said 2025 would be the first date for the airport to be built.

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