FAA:Availability of funds for airport “unrealistic”

Published on Thu, Jan 25, 2007 by ara Nelson

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FAA: Availability of funds for airport “unrealistic”

By Tara Nelson

Blaine City Council will once again vote whether to keep the Blaine airport after the possibility of federal funding for an expansion outlined in the city’s airport master plan is looking increasingly unlikely.

During a regular meeting of Blaine City Council Monday, council member John Liebert introduced a resolution that would rescind the city’s moratorium on the Blaine airport master plan and prepare an ordinance to close the airport no later than December 2008. The council voted 4-2 to put the resolution on the agenda for their upcoming February 12 council meeting.

The move comes after an email from Mary Vargas, the state aviation planner for the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Seattle district office to city officials, in which the FAA recommended that Blaine not proceed with its airport expansion plan but rather maintain the airport in its current operation. The email cited an “unrealistic” possibility of the availability of funds necessary to proceed with the city’s airport expansion plan.

“Last week we received an eye dropping note from Mary Vargas that indicates there is little to no chance we will be receiving any of the funding that we were thinking the FAA would be providing either in little or large amounts,” Liebert said. “I’m not saying the airport isn’t useable but that we at least engage in some kind of a study as to how those things will try to proceed if that funding doesn’t come through.”
In the letter, Vargas warned city officials that because of a property dispute involving Blaine resident Eugene Klein in which monetary compensation will be requested, the FAA recommends the city not condemn Klein’s land for a runway extension in the “near or immediate future.”

Vargas said Klein and his attorney had claimed that his property has been “damaged” because of the city’s plans to extend the runway and is asking for more in compensation than the appraised free market value (FMV).

She added that the FAA recommends that the city consider a runway extension as a project the agency and the city “might work together on in the distant future of 15 to 20 years,” subject to the availability of federal airport improvement program (AIP) funds and requiring the city’s runway extension plan receives federal environmental approval – at minimum, an approved federal environmental assessment.

The letter further stated that approval of the plan does not guarantee that the agency will participate in a the cost of any development proposed and cited a previous telephone conversation in which FAA officials told council members that it is “very possible” that the city could receive far less than the maximum federal share in support of eligible projects.

Vargas used an example in which Blaine may need to move Boblett Street using 100 percent city funds prior to reimbursement.
The letter closed by suggesting the city focus on projects which can be supported by the non-primary entitlement budget and that it may not be realistic to expect millions of dollars from other general aviation airports.
Council members Jason Overstreet and Bonnie Onyon agreed.
“It’s important the public understands that the king pin holding this plan together is non-primary entitlement funds,” Overstreet said. “Those transferred funds aren’t going to happen.”

Onyon said a lot of the information council members based their decision on when they voted to keep the airport was hinged on the current funding plan, which relies heavily on those same funds.

“That plan isn’t possible anymore, or at least it’s certainly not realistic,” Onyon said. “And for me, it’s far too risky. It’s a whole lot of money with few guarantees and I can’t subject future council members to that.”

Council member Charlie Hawkins objected to Liebert’s proposal because it was brought forth during council member Bruce Wolf’s absence. Wolf, who has typically voted in favor of the airport in past meetings, has an excused absence until the February 26 regularly scheduled council meeting.

“Without Bruce here, it seems a little unfair,” he said.
Council member Mike Myers agreed.

“I fully oppose putting the motion on the agenda,” he said. “I still think it’s a huge mistake. It doesn’t have a runway extension but it’s still a good airport.”

Hawkins and Myers voted against the resolution.