Funding for Airport Modernization Project Up in the Air

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SWEETWATER COUNTY– The Sweetwater County Commissioners voted 3-2 to table a budget amendment request for the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport at today’s meeting.

The budget amendment request is for $711,111 of additional funding from the county to go towards the design of the airport’s Commercial Terminal Modernization Project.

Devon Brubaker, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Director, requested the budget amendment as the September 4 meeting.

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The $711,111 that is being requested is two-thirds of the total estimated cost of $1,066,667.

Background

Back in March 2018, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which provided a supplemental appropriation of $1 billion in additional federal discretionary funding for airport infrastructure improvements.

As supplemental appropriations for the AIP are very rare, the competition for this $1 billion in funding is expected to be high. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has indicated that projects that already have design underway or completed will compete favorably for this additional grant.

Therefore, Brubaker is asking the county to fund the designing process to get the project underway and increase the chances of being granted the money.

To be considered by the FAA, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport must have the application submitted for funding by October 31. The entire $1 billion appropriation must be granted by the end of the Federal Fiscal Year 2020.

The first deadline for the FAA funding was for “shovel ready” projects that could begin construction within 60 days of receiving the funding. These projects will receive 15 percent of the FAA funding, leaving about $800 to $850 million left for the next round of projects.

Brubaker said that if the airport is not chosen in this upcoming round, they can try again in the next round, and so on.

No Way to Predict the Probability

The commissioners agreed that they felt uncomfortable with pre-funding a project that doesn’t already have federal funding secured. Commissioner Wally Johnson said that there is no way to predict the probability that the airport will actually receive the FAA funding.

Brubaker confirmed that they cannot predict the probability, but assured the commissioners that they are strategically phasing the project out to ensure they do not get too far ahead of themselves.

He said that the engineers are on board with the project for at least five years, and understand that the project will only go as far as it is funded for.

Why is the Project Needed?

Commissioner Johnson questioned Brubaker on why the project is needed. Brubaker said that there were 12 issues presented in the letter he sent to the commissioners earlier in the month, and those just scratch the surface.

Issues include:

  • Undersized security checkpoint
  • Undersized post security gate/hold room for today’s and tomorrow’s aircraft
  • Poorly configured baggage claim
  • Inefficient building envelope (for energy efficiency)
  • Building life safety issues, such as no fire suppression sprinkler system, poor egress in certain areas, and limited handicap access impacting Americans with Disabilities Act compliance
  • Poorly arranged check-in and airline ticket office space
  • Poorly coordinated revenue generation space
  • Outdated terminal building aesthetics, both interior and exterior
  • Lack of natural light
  • Lack of aviation and landscape related views to promote aviation
  • Lack of public (non-secure) viewing and waiting space for meet/greet
  • Inadequate and poorly arranged terminal building vehicle parking that does not meet code

Brubaker said that the project was already in their plans regardless of whether the FAA funding was being granted or not. He said that if the project does not happen, “the airport will cease to exist.” Eventually, the airport will not meet certain codes needed to operate.

Brubaker told the commissioners that the funds he is asking them for is like a down payment. He said the project is going to happen eventually, but the FAA funding would decrease the amount of local money spent on it.

Decision to Table the Request

Commissioner Don Van Matre said he was “very uncomfortable” with the request. He told Brubaker he believed the best thing the commission could do for him at the moment was delay the decision, as there was not a very good chance that they would vote favorably to the budget amendment.

Van Matre said he did not want the budget amendment to fail, but that he did not feel comfortable with approving it at that time. He asked Brubaker if they had to make a decision today.

Brubaker reminded the commissioners that they have to meet the October 31 deadline. The county’s funding is not required for them to apply for the FAA funding, but the airport’s chance of being funded with the FAA grant “drops dramatically” without it, Brubaker said.

The airport will apply for the FAA funding whether the county grants them the additional funding or not.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to table the budget amendment request. Commissioners Van Matre, Reid West, and Randy Wendling voted in favor of tabling, while Johnson and John Kolb voted against it.