Floodplain, revenue complicate city, airport board negotiations

Columbus is considering plans to create an industrial park at the former Walesboro Airport.

Mayor Kristen Brown said the city is effectively out of shovel-ready land for developers. There are just a couple parcels left, including 38 acres out of more than 900 acres at Woodside Industrial Park, the mayor said.

The city now is looking to foster development at the former airport, where the Columbus Board of Aviation Commissioners own more than 700 acres of land ready to be developed, Brown said.

But city officials have to deal with issues related to a floodplain classification and the need to replace airport agriculture revenues before a developer can take over the land.

Flood maps from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that went into effect Dec. 9 put all of the Walesboro land in question into a floodplain. That means based on the federal agency’s analysis, the entire site is at risk of flooding if the East Fork White River rises above its banks.

That’s a change from previous maps, which just had a small portion of the site in the flood zone, said Jeff Bergman, city-county planning director.

The city appealed the maps, which led to developers being required to use less fill dirt to elevate any structure above the floodplain.

But the current classification is still a significant detriment to the value of the land, Brown said. Two appraisals obtained by the city both subtract $5 million for actions needed to address the floodplain, such as developers using fill, piers or other methods to decrease the flood risk.

And city officials still don’t think the flood maps are accurate, Bergman said.

They’re working on another study using advanced modeling techniques, and they’ve received approval for that study from the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Brown said.

At the same time as that study, officials also have begun talking to the aviation commissioners about how to recoup farming revenue the airport would lose if it sold the land for development.

Farming at the former airport made up about 25 percent of the airport’s farm revenue and about 12 percent of its overall revenue during the past three years, airport director Brian Payne said.

Payne said the board just wants to make sure it will be able to make up that revenue, as the airport does not receive support from taxpayers and operates solely using fees from rentals, farming and other revenue sources.

That may include using proceeds from land sales to buy more farmland or having the city or the developers pay a yearly annuity to the airport, Brown said.

The aviation board also will have to approve and issue the request for proposals to select developers, which officials hope to have sent out by March or April, the mayor said.

Walesboro farming revenues

The revenue shown is for the crop year, which generally starts in early spring.

2011

Total farming revenue: $654,865

Walesboro: $176,200

2012

Total farming revenue: $641,156

Walesboro: $174,022

2013

Total farming revenue: $598,240

Walesboro: $132,814