FAA raises priority for Tri-Cities Airport remodel funding

By Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldNovember 18, 2013 

Tri-Cities Airport Aerial

September 14, 2013 - A potential $8 million Federal Aviation Administration grant for the Tri-Cities Airport would double the size of the terminal from almost 55,000 to 110,000 square feet.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

The Tri-Cities Airport terminal remodel has been moved up in priority by the Federal Aviation Administration, increasing the chances of receiving grant funding next year.

But Port of Pasco officials are still taking a more conservative stance on paying for the $43.5 million project meant to double the size of the Pasco terminal.

Commissioners asked architect Mead & Hunt on Monday to find another $1 million piece of the project that can be pulled from the base design.

That piece will be included among the alternatives port officials plan to include when they ask for bids from subcontractors this spring. Other alternatives include adding space back to Gate 5 and a baggage delivery system.

However, Stephen Horton of Leibowitz & Horton Airport Management Consultants told port commissioners they may be able to add back in the $1 million in alternatives even if the port does not receive an $8 million grant from the FAA this spring.

Port officials were told Monday that the FAA has moved the terminal up in priority and will be among the first to receive any discretionary funding.

Port Commissioner Ron Reimann said as far as he is concerned, the $8 million discretionary grant is nonexistent. If it does come, it will be like a Christmas present.

Randy Hayden, the port's deputy executive director, recommended that commissioners base project planning on using the annual Airport Improvement Program, or AIP, payments from the FAA, but not the $8 million grant.

The annual AIP amount is based on the number of boardings. This year, it will be about $2.4 million, said Linda O'Brien, the port's finance and administration director.

The port has permission from the FAA to use those entitlement dollars even though they normally cannot be spent on terminal projects.

And even if the port does receive the grant, FAA officials have said the port will still be able to use a couple of years of AIP money for the terminal remodel, Hayden said.

The reliability of AIP entitlement funding has been solid since 1987 when the program was created, Horton said. While there have been delays in payments and reductions, eventually those have been made up, he said.

Port Executive Director Jim Toomey urged commissioners to continue forward with the planning process, despite the uncertainty over the federal funding. The goal is for construction to begin around July 1.

The project includes moving the staircase and restrooms to the front of the terminal building to open up the area near the security checkpoint. Security, ticketing and baggage areas also would be expanded. A new concourse beyond the security area would feature a view of the airfield, with gates to the right and left.

In other business, port commissioners unanimously approved a change order of $973,000 for the relocation of the FAA-owned VOR, or Very High Frequency Omnidirectional Range radio beacon, which is used for navigation.

The VOR is in the way of the terminal remodel, and has to be moved before the port can expand the concourse.

The cost to move the equipment has more than doubled, now reaching $4.5 million including the change order, port officials said.

The FAA will reimburse the port for 90 percent of the cost. The $450,000 the port is responsible for will be paid from airport revenues, O'Brien said.

The port has already recouped $2.9 million from the FAA, she said.

Construction to move the VOR is scheduled to begin in January, said Ron Foraker, the port's airport director.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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