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Officials may ask Congress to pay for airport terminal


Local officials may try to secure a congressional appropriation to replace the Havre City-County Airport's terminal, which is in dire need of repair.

Members of the airport board met Thursday 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.

Such a project could cost nearly $600,000, Havre public works director Dave Peterson said today.

The terminal has a leaky roof and inefficient windows and insulation. The airport board, which has an annual operating budget of $66,000, has been unable to afford the repairs. The small size of the airport has precluded it from receiving federal grant money for repairs to the terminal.

"We kind of slipped through the cracks when it comes to funding," board secretary Lowell Swenson said this morning.

The airport board enlisted Bear Paw Development Corp. to invite representatives of Rehberg and Baucus to discuss other possible sources of funding, said Paul Tuss, executive director of Bear Paw Development. A representative of Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., could not make the meeting, Tuss added.

"Basically, it was an opportunity for the (airport board) to relay to the congressional delegation the condition of the airport, and that there is no money to repair or replace it," Tuss said. " We talked specifically about securing a federal appropriation to build a new terminal building."

The airport board and city and county officials will have to prepare a needs assessment proposal that will convince the U.S. House and Senate to pass a funding measure for a new terminal, Tuss said.

"The window that we have is four to six weeks to get something to the Appropriations Committee," he said. "What we have to do is clearly demonstrate a need. With the fiscal condition in Washington you have to demonstrate that this is a pretty pressing need with some serious consequences if funding isn't found soon. These things are very competitive."

Rehberg spokesman Brad Keena agreed.

"They need to put together a thorough assessment and proposal to convince legislators on the project," he said this morning in the telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "The local officials have to be commended for starting early and doing everything they can to see that this project comes to pass. They're doing it right."

Baucus spokesman Barrett Kaiser said public support will be critical to the success of the appropriation request, adding that Baucus will offer his support.

"Max supports the goal of enhancing the airport and he's committed to working with the Havre community to make it happen," Kaiser said.

Even if Congress decides to award the appropriation, funding would be a long way off, Tuss said.

"The money appears at the end of a very long tunnel. You put the request in at one end, and the money pops out at the other. At the earliest, it would be a year from now. It has to go through committees and through both houses."

He added, "At the earliest it would be a year, and that's assuming the project has legs and that we have the support."

Tuss said local leaders also need to discuss what other projects need to be funded through a congressional appropriation.

"We need to prioritize this request with other requests that may exist in the community as well," he said. "We don't want to send mixed signals to the congressional delegation. I think it's important locally to show what our priorities are."

City and county officials say the airport is essential to Havre and the surrounding area. The airport handles two daily flights by Big Sky Airlines; four weekly flights by Exec Air, which carries parcels for UPS; and daily flights by Alpine Air, which carries mail under contract with the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Border Patrol keeps two planes and a helicopter there and makes daily flights. Other government agencies, including federal officials visiting Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation, also utilize the airport.

The airport is also home to Havre Flying service. Owner Brian Moore said the service fuels about five planes a day and sells about 80,000 gallons of fuel a year.

"Reliable transportation is an absolute key to economic development," Tuss said. "That airport up there is used for a whole host of purposes. Not to have that as part of the larger economic puzzle would be detrimental, not just to Havre, but to all of north-central Montana. You have to have facilities that are up to date to properly serve the needs of the community."

Several other structures at the airport are also in need of maintenance. New legislation may make them eligible for federal grant money.


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