By Michael Howell
On November 14, the Ravalli County Commissioners decided to submit a grant application to the Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division (MDTAD) for $33,000 to pay for an Environmental Assessment (EA) of options for improvements at the county airport. The full cost of the EA is estimated at $74,320. The county has already been awarded a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for $40,000 to cover a portion of the cost.
An EA designating a preferred option was already completed in 2010. However, following the county elections the new slate of commissioners felt that the proposed configuration in the original EA was flawed and decided to update the EA to re-evaluate the configuration and possibly move the runway further to the east and perhaps even lengthen the runway. Although it states in the grant application that the original EA “never received the final blessing from the FAA,” in fact the FAA did issue a Record of Decision approving it. It was the new Board of Commissioners that decided not to file that ROD and Finding of No Significant Impact and institute an update of the EA instead.
The proposed airport improvements have been controversial from the beginning. A local group called ICAARE lobbied heavily for the commissioners to stick with the original EA that had already gained FAA approval. They argued that it did not make sense to spend more money for an update. At the time, however, another local group called the Ravalli County Aviation Safety Foundation stepped up and offered to pay up to $35,000 to cover the county’s cost of the project if it was to apply for and receive federal funding. Following the award of $40,000 from the FAA, in October 2011 the foundation upped that amount by an additional $1,320 and on November 16 turned over a check for $36,320 to the county to cover the remaining costs.
At the commissioners’ November 14 meeting, Commissioner Ron Stoltz said that if the grant application to MDTAD was successful, the foundation’s money could be put toward other airport projects.