Fuel sales at Hawkins County Airport suspended due to debris in filter

Jeff Bobo • Feb 13, 2020 at 3:15 PM

ROGERSVILLE — No more fuel will be sold at the Hawkins County Airport until an evaluation is conducted to make sure it’s free of debris and safe for aircraft to use.

Airport manager Mark Finley told the Airport Committee Wednesday that he had found some debris in the fuel pump filtration system which he attributes to the tank’s aging iron plumbing.

“When I change the filter now, I’m finding some ferrous metals and flakes of rust in the filter,” Finley said. “All of the plumbing is ferrous — it’s iron — and it’s starting to break down internally. I think that’s the best way to describe it.”

Finley added, “That’s a liability. We’re liable selling fuel to the public. We need to make sure that everything is working properly.”

A proposed fuel tank plumbing replacement project would also entail an inspection of the inside of the tank to make sure a hand pump Finley uses to clear debris that settles on the bottom of the tank is actually reaching the bottom, where it belongs.

Finley told the committee he had acquired a $16,000 estimate from a contractor to replace the plumbing with stainless steel and to conduct the sump inspection.

Obsolete fuel tank credit card reader

Finley also told the committee the airport’s self-service fuel station kiosk will have an obsolete analog credit card reader beginning in June, when the vendor will no longer support the technology.

An updated replacement card reader is estimated to cost around $14,000, plus installation fee, but the old machine has a $1,900 core rebate.

One bit of good news was that HolstonConnects has already run Internet service to the kiosk. It wasn’t until that Internet line had been installed that officials realized it wasn’t compatible with the existing card reader.

However, when the new digital card reader is installed, it will be compatible with the HolstonConnects Internet service, Finley said.

Terminal roof repair approved

Finley said he acquired a cost estimate two years ago in the amount of $9,800 to repair the airport terminal roof.

“I’ve patched on it so much that I’m afraid if I get up there and patch on it any more I’m going to start doing damage,” Finley said. “Those panels really aren’t supporting my weight well. I’ve siliconed it now to the point that I’ve had to sort of let it go. But it’s a slow drip in about three different places.”

Finley added, “The ceiling tiles — you walk in and right off the bat you can see where the leaks are. I’ve patched it to the point I can’t patch it anymore.”

In the winter after a big snow, the leaks are “really bad,” Finley said, because snow applies weight to the roof panels and opens the cracks more.

Committee approves roof, card reader

The county commission had already approved $25,000 in the 2019-20 fiscal year budget for capital outlay projects. The state also allows Hawkins County to be reimbursed for up to $10,000 in maintenance expenses annually.

The Airport Committee voted Wednesday to advertise for bids for the roof repair, which would be funded from the budget.

The committee also voted to utilize the state reimbursement funds to help pay for the fuel kiosk card reader replacement before the existing equipment becomes obsolete in June.

However, the committee decided to wait until June to begin the fuel tank plumbing replacement project. The reasoning was that the fuel level would be lower and easier to manage at that point, and by then the county might be able to utilize grant funding to help pay for it.

Finley said he was checking the fuel tank filter monthly, and it had been cleaner recently, and he didn’t object to the plumbing project delay.  

All fuel sales suspended

Following Wednesday’s Airport Committee meeting, however, Hawkins County Mayor Jim Lee announced that he was suspending all fuel sales at the airport pending the completion of a fuel quality evaluation to ensure that the fuel being sold is safe.

Lee also announced that the county is moving forward with re-plumbing of the fuel system at the airport, utilizing funds available in this year’s budget.

County buildings manager Sara Davis told the Times News Wednesday there is no timeline as of yet for the fuel evaluation.

Fuel sales at the airport netted a profit of $3,226 for the airport in 2018-19 and $3,778 the previous year.