By Michael Howell
On Monday, November 18, the Ravalli County Commissioners considered a possible grant application to Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division for $15,700. This was based on an estimated total project cost of $314,000, with the FAA picking up the lion’s share (90%) of $282,600 with local costs (10%) totaling $31,400. The grant application was looking to have the MDT Aeronautics Division pick up half of that (5%), about $15,700.
The problem the Commissioners faced was that the FAA had committed funds for the Phase 3 Environmental Assessment (EA) at a cost of $214,000. But no grant application had yet been submitted to the FAA for an additional $100,000 for Phase 4 work on the EA. At a continuation of the meeting on Tuesday, November 19, the Commissioners stripped the $100,000 for work on Phase 4 of the EA from the MDT Aeronautics Division grant application, even though “some or all of that work may or may not have been done already,” according to Commissioner Greg Chilcott. This reduced the overall project cost from $314,000 to $214,000, reduced the total local cost to $21,400 and reduced the grant request amount to MDT Aeronautics Division to $10,700.
On Tuesday, Chilcott objected to approving the grant application, saying, “this represents a 133% increase in the cost of doing the Airport EA.” He said it was kind of late in the game to find out about these costs.
He raised the spectre of what the County’s position would be if it approved the application as submitted – including the as yet unapproved $100,000 – and the FAA ended up not approving their grant for whatever reason. He argued that by approving these as project expenditures in this grant application it could be interpreted as giving consent to the expenditures when they were not in the scope of their original agreement with Robert Peccia and Associates, the engineering firm. No change orders with regard to that contract have been submitted or obtained. Chilcott went on to note that the original grant for the EA involved a third party in making the local match, the Aeronautics Safety Foundation (ASF). He thought maybe ASF should be consulted.
Commission Chair Jeff Burrows agreed that there was a risk involved and some big assumptions being made. He said that he could not support risking tax dollars in that way.
The grant application, presented by Rick Donaldson of Robert Peccia and Associates, gives a brief account of the history of the County’s effort to approve a Final EA for the airport.
The submittal explains that an EA was completed in 2010 with a proposed configuration. The FAA approved a finding of no significant impact and record of decision, but the Commissioners refused to publish the finding in the Federal Register “because the Commissioners believed the Proposed Action in the Final EA did not adequately address the future needs of the airport.”
The County then hired Peccia to review aviation activity, develop forecasts for the future, and “elaborate on facility needs.” This included revisiting the alternatives in the 2010 EA to determine if any new alternatives merited consideration. One was found that includes a land purchase to extend the runway safety zone.
“This planning process has been ongoing for many years and needs to come to a conclusion so that the airport can move toward the reconfiguration plan and repair existing pavements with FAA assistance,” states the document.
What happened, according to the information in the grant submittal, is “the FAA has requested additional items to be considered in the EA and so a request for assistance with this effort is included here under the ‘other’ category. These items include: update wetlands delineation, update noise contours, update and expand area of consideration for cultural resource inventory, coordination with Salish & Kootenai and Nez Perce tribes.”
An Airport Layout Plan was also added to the scope of the work at a cost of $34,000 with the local match valued at $3,500. This is separate from the $100,000 for Phase 4 EA costs.
“Also, through coordination with the FAA, it was determined that the most likely work elements for 2014 (provided there is a favorable determination on the EA) would be engineering design for an apron reconstruction/expansion, and maintenance on the runway and taxiway pavements that are still above the pavement critical index and therefore eligible for FAA financial assistance,” it states in the document.
Commissioner Chilcott insisted that without some documentation about the need for the added work and the legitimacy of the costs, coupled with the big questions about the County’s exposure, he could not approve the application as it stood. Instead, he proposed to approve the grant application minus the $100,000 in additional work. That motion was unanimously approved.