WENATCHEE — Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority is taking dual paths to receive federal funding available in 2024 for its General Aviation Terminal Building remodel after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently rejected its airport terminal grant application for $3 million. The second run at federal funds will delay the remodel project.
Commissioners discussed funding options, including the port re-attempting another grab at federal funds, at the Feb. 28 board meeting. The FAA chose projects already underway, but didn’t tell the port that was the priority beforehand, according to Kuntz.
“The feedback… was as the FAA staff were ranking projects, they were looking at terminal buildings that were currently under construction and giving money to those projects to make sure they got completed,” said Jim Kuntz, port CEO, at the board meeting. “Even though we were almost at full design and ready to turn the page, we weren’t under construction.”
Kuntz said that disappointment about the General Aviation Terminal Building being snubbed was conveyed to the FAA in a “very stark way.” Several commissioners dubbed the move to place priority on projects that were already under construction was a bait and switch move by the FAA.
“We had meetings with the FAA on this… never in that process was there discussion about ‘we’re only going to fund airports that are in construction,’” said commissioner Richard DeRock. “Is it in our interest to protest the FAA for them changing the rules after the applications are due? People applying for a new project, because the criteria says they’re eligible, and then to have them just say nope, we’re not even going to consider those. This periodically happens in the federal process. I think we need to call them on it.”
Kuntz told him and others at the meeting that the FAA had a host of criteria to steer the selection of which projects would receive the set amount of funding and took the route of placing importance on terminal buildings under construction for the limited pool of money. Following the rejection, Kuntz said doubling back for federal funds, including trying again with the previously rejected FAA grant application, was the optimal next move.
“This project’s going to get delayed, but I just think it’s important to use federal funds to help,” Kuntz said. “I think we go down parallel paths (to apply for federal funding).”
The port is trying a new route to secure $3 million through its submitted congressionally directed spending requests, with a decision on the possible allocation due by September or October, and the money would be available by the end of the first quarter of 2024. Chelan Douglas Regional Port Authority would chip in $2.5 million for the project, along with the allocated $3 million.
The congressionally directed spending, is “a new tool,” Kuntz said. The port aimed to put in requests to Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell to bring forward the project to the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Simultaneously, the port is going “rinse, recycle, repeat,” Kuntz said, and put forward another application, for the same $3 million amount, through the FAA airport terminal grant program in the fall. Funding allocations would be announced around February 2024.
The FAA also added another layer, an additional environmental assessment, for the remodel process to meet federal requirements. This was due to the General Aviation Terminal being a historic property and is a “hiccup,” in the remodel process, Kuntz said. The added step will stall the project six to nine months.
“Regardless of the funding source, we have to go through that… the FAA (can) regulate airport land use and how that development would affect airfield and aircraft operations. They determined that our project does have an impact so they’re retaining authority on the project so we have to meet all of the federal standards,” said Stacie de Mestre, port capital works project and public works manager. “In code of federal regulations, they have a definition of historic property (which encompasses the General Aviation Terminal)… we have to go through another EA (environmental assessment) process.”
Another option teed up was for the port to push forward without waiting for another funding opportunity and cover the entire $5.5 million dollar project. According to Kuntz, this would propel the project to be underway in the next 30 days rather than face a delay waiting for federal funding. However, Kuntz added this wasn’t optimal, and although the port could financially manage it, “It’s a lot of port money.”
A grievance was that the hole in anticipated funding could tangle the port’s timeline to complete the remodel in time for the Washington Army National Guard’s arrival.
The National Guard is slated to be stationed at Pangborn Memorial Airport and take over the entire Executive Flight Building in early 2024. The building’s current occupants will be moved into the remodeled General Aviation Building, the Confluence Technology Center and elsewhere. According to Kuntz, the National Guard will move in on schedule regardless of the GA Terminal Building’s completion, with “mobile trailers” around the property to accommodate.
“Our welcoming mat will be less than adequate, but we will get there and have a successful project,” Kuntz said.
The Washington Army National Guard move to Pangborn Memorial Airport is anticipated to haul in 100 Army National Guard reservists to the two-county area one weekend per month and create 50 full-time jobs, according to Wenatchee World archives.
“I am optimistic; I’m a glass half full kind of guy. This project is going to happen; it’s just a question of when,” Kuntz said. “We’re going to have a nice project. But it’s not going to get done until the end of 2024 or 2025.”