By Ellen Thompson/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
A promise of aid for the ailing Havre City-County Airport comes in the vague language of a U.S. House transportation appropriations bill.
But the mention gives local officials some hope that money will arrive to pay for a new airport terminal already being planned.
The office of U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., issued a press release this week stating that the Transportation and Treasury Appropriations Bill has passed the Senate Appropriations Committee.
The bill includes a mention of five Montana airports, but only lists specific amounts for three of those airports - in Great Falls, Billings and Missoula. For Havre and Helena, the bill mentions only "future funding once the legislation goes to Conference Committee," the press release said.
Burns, a member of the committee, added that language about Havre, his office said.
"What this is is a place holder for Havre. Funds will be added in the joint House-Senate summit conference committee to try and get Havre a fair share of the pie," Burns' press secretary, J.P. Donovan, said today.
After the Senate approves its version of the bill, a joint conference committee will resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. Once both the House and Senate vote on the final version, it will be sent to the president for his signature.
Members of the airport board met in January with representatives of U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., and U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., to discuss the possibility of securing federal money to construct a new terminal. Representatives from Burns' office did not attend that meeting.
"It doesn't tell you anything," Bear Paw Development Corp. executive director Paul Tuss said Thursday about the language in the bill. "I was hoping it would be one of those bullets down below" that mentions specific allotments.
"That would be something to hang your hat on," he said. "Sometimes they put you in here as a feel-good thing."
Airport board members hadn't heard about the funding until a reporter asked about it.
"It sounds kind of promising," board member Gerald Grabofsky said today. "If it has gone that far, it might just get further.
"At the meeting (in January) they promised to try their best to carry it through. Evidently they've been working diligently on it. We've got to commend them for that," Grabofsky said.
Last month the board learned that with the help of a philanthropic Texas family that has business interests in Havre, the airport will be able to access $300,000 in federal funding to renovate the terminal building. The promised donation of $15,000 will satisfy a required 5 percent match. But one estimate puts the cost of renovation at $600,000.
Blueprints for a new airport terminal were presented Thursday to the City-County Airport Board. The board was joined by Mitch Stelling, president of Stelling Engineers, and Marvin Hessler, owner of Hessler Architects. They discussed the first set of renovation plans and a time line for applications for other grants. The airport board plans to apply for Federal Aviation Administration grants this winter.
Stelling informed the board that it also could borrow federal funds from other counties that have no immediate plans to use them. These funds would supplement the $300,000 that will have accrued to the airport by next year.
The board approved Hessler's blueprints, with one slight modification, and told Hessler and Stelling to put together an estimate for that plan.
Hessler's blueprints were based on remodeling the existing building. Many of the current walls will be maintained, but a pitched roof will be added to provide better weather protection. Hessler will do a second estimate on the cost of replacing the building.
Whether the board ultimately chooses to remodel or rebuild, it will be faced with costly asbestos abatement. The terminal building has asbestos in the walls, ceilings and floors, as well as mold in the carpets, Hessler said. All of these hazards will need to be addressed, he said.
For now the airport board is celebrating a few small victories while it waits for bigger hopes to materialize.
The airport's budget is up to $76,000 this year, from $66,000 last year. Greater revenue from crops produced on airport lands and the cancellation of all but liability insurance on the buildings are responsible for an increase that put $17,000 into the maintenance and repairs column of the budget.
"I can actually fix something?" airport manager Bill Arvin said. Arvin has been battling leaky rooves and making temporary fixes to equipment to keep the airport running.
There have been some small improvements, board chair Bob Breum said. Eagle Scouts have added new benches, Arvin has cleared underbrush, and volunteers have added some fresh paint to old signs, but nothing like the changes that the board hopes to see.