Airport Authority looking to state to help fund runway upgrades

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

The Ashtabula County Airport Authority is hoping to get some help at the state level with funding for the runway project.

ACAA officials and Ashtabula County Commissioners met with State Sen. Capri Cafaro and Jason Wilson, director of the Governor’s Office of Appalachia, Monday to discuss the possibility of obtaining state funding to assist with the project. State Rep. John Patterson (D- Jefferson) joined the meeting as well, via telephone.

The ACAA is in the process of creating a financial plan for the project to submit to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Dwight Bowden, ACAA president, said state funding will make the project that much more attractive to the FAA for its funding.

Bowden said the financial plan for the project should be fairly simple as the ACAA is not borrowing any money, nor will there be a tax levy to fund it.

The estimated cost of the project is $8.5 million with $7.5 million being funded through FAA funding. The remaining $789,000 will come from local funding.

The airport has three trusts set up. Funds from the Ashtabula County Aviation Capital Expenditures Trust will be used to pay the local portion of the project.

There is currently $644,000 in the trust, which would leave a shortfall of about $145 to fund the project; however, if the entire amount in the trust is used to fund the local portion of the project, the trust will be depleted.

Bowden said when the airport was created, it was created with federal, state and local dollars.

“We’re hoping the way this will go is similar to the funding that created the airport,” he said.

Bowden said the airport is truly an asset to the county. The closest airports of its kind are in Cleveland, Youngstown or Erie, Pa.

“Everyone has worked very, very hard to take us where we are in a short period of time,” he said. “This is crunch time now.”

The airport’s runway surface is at the end of its design life and in need of the improvements or it becomes an unsafe facility and not in compliance of FAA standards.

The project will take the runway from 5,200 feet to 5,900 feet as well as bring the airport’s Runway Safety Area (RSA) into compliance with the current FAA design standards, which is required when an airport undergoes runway reconstruction.

Cafaro said if there is a way to tangibly convey the demand for airport use, it may help justify the improvements in obtaining state funding.

“Obviously you don’t want to put up the entire $644,000, so the $144,000 shortfall is not accurate,” she said. “You have to determine how much you are willing to put up.”

Cafaro said the state is in the process of working on its budget for capital improvements and she will have to do some digging to see whether the law allows for funding this type of project through the state’s capital budget. She said if the project meets the constitutional requirements, there is a possibility funding may be available through the capital budget.

Cafaro and Wilson both encouraged the ACAA and the county commissioners to pass resolutions in support of the project as well as obtain letters of support from those utilizing the airport.

Patterson said everyone is concerned about the cost of the project, which they should be, but he said the project is being looked at the wrong way.

“We need to be concerned with the cost of not doing this,” he said. “If we don’t do this, we will lose (the airport) and we won’t get it back.”

Bowden said the ACAA has come too far to just let it go.

“I’m speaking right now as Dwight Bowden, not the (airport) authority,” he said. “It will get done.”

Wilson, who is also a pilot, agreed as to the importance of the project.

“A mile of highway is one mile of highway, but a mile of runway is access to the world,” he said. “It’s a mile of runway that can change the economics of this county.”