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Airport seeking funds for renovations

It could cost each member of Crescent City’s airport consortium $20,000 if they are asked to help pay for safety improvements at the rural airport.

Those members include Del Norte County, Crescent City, Elk Valley Rancheria, Smith River Rancheria,  Brookings and Curry County.

The improvements are required by new Federal Aviation Administration regulations and include lengthening and widening runways to prevent “overshooting, undershooting and excursions from” the runways, said Susan Daugherty, administrative assistant of the Border Coast Regional Airport Authority.

Any financial requests from members would be a last resort and least desirable option, said Brookings City Manager Gary Milliman at a city workshop Monday afternoon.

“There weren’t many airports that met these new standards,” Daugherty said. “And ours did not either.”

The changes must be made by 2015 — and they don’t come cheap.

Del Norte County Airport’s improvements alone will run about $20 million, but most of that will be paid for by the FAA. It still leaves the BCRAA owing $1.6 million to $1.8 million.

Some requirements are easier than others, such as relocating windsocks and regrading parts of the runways. But acquiring land and mitigating wetlands are, not unexpectedly, proving to be even more expensive than the cost of construction.

The BCRAA still hopes to garner most of the money through grant funds and possibly a line of credit with a delayed payment date until the agency can get reimbursed from the FAA.

“It’s difficult here; we’re dealing with federal funds, and federal funds are kind of tight,” said George Rhodes, who just announced his resignation as representative for the city of Brookings on the BCRAA board. “We’re dealing with the Coastal Commission and the Army Corps. It’s very time-consuming and very expensive. Every time we turn around, it seems there’s another hurdle to jump throrugh. It’s frustrating for most of the board members.”

BCRAA was bumped from a September grant cycle to one in October, Daugherty said.

“We’d hoped to get the grant funding, but we didn’t hit the FAA fund cycle,” she said. “When we go into the next funding cycle, we hope to get the money reimbursed, but that’s not a guarantee when we’ve already spent the money. Hopefully this will be our turn and our year.”

Funding cycles are only part of the worries.

The BCRAA has yet to hear from the Army Corps of Engineers about its ratio of wetlands takings to mitigation, and once it does, will have to deal with construction constraints required by the California Coastal Commission, which has rules about work being done during wildlife breeding seasons.

The work is requiring BCRAA to take and mitigate about 16 acres of wetlands.

Additionally, seasonal fog cuts into construction timelines to the tune of almost six months each year, Rhodes said.

To pay for it all will be just as complex, Daugherty said.

Based on license-plate counts conducted in the Del Norte Airport parking lot, about 50 percent of those using the facility are from Oregon — presumably, mostly from Brookings, Milliman said.

“A great many Oregon residents are working in California — in county government, in the prison,” Daugherty said. “All of them make use of the airport.”

That is why the BCRAA could ask its members to chip in on the funds.

The airport might have to obtain a loan, as well — except it has no assets.

The Del Norte airport is not a money-making enterprise, and is subsidized by the county and the federal government, Daugherty said.

When airlines were deregulated in 1978, airlines had the freedom to determine which markets to serve — often leaving small, rural communities without access to a major hub.

The Essential Air Service (EAS) program was put in place by the Department of Transportation to guarantee that small communities that were served by air carriers before deregulation received a minimal level of scheduled air service, the DOT website reads.

In general, this is done by subsidizing two to four round trips a day with 19-seat aircraft to a major hub airport. The department subsidizes commuter airlines to about 163 rural communities across the country that otherwise would not receive any scheduled air service.

“Del Norte Airport is kind of the poster child for the Essential Air Service Program,” Daugherty said. “It is so far to get to major hubs, Highway 199 can be dangerous certain times of the year, our population is older, we’re rural. This program is made for airports like this one.”

Del Norte Airport sees three flights a day, with airplanes that can seat 30 people. With the improvements, the airport runways could accommodate larger, 71-seat planes.

So far, $2.6 million has been spent on the new requirements. An additional $2.9 million has been spent on designs for a new terminal.

The artist’s rendering Daugherty presented depicted a long, 14,000-square-foot building with a roof that resembles a large ocean wave. The tubular part of the wave features numerous windows, from which people inside can watch arriving planes or wait.

The facility would include a 180-space parking lot, a TSA office and baggage check. Its construction is contingent on the completion of the FAA’s required improvements.

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