Nonprofit offers to help finance review of Ravalli County airport expansion

Nonprofit offers to help finance review of Ravalli County airport expansion

By WHITNEY BERMES – Ravalli Republic | Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2011 2:00 pm

A local nonprofit has committed up to $35,000 to Ravalli County to help pay for an updated environmental assessment of airport expansion plans.
Ravalli County was awarded a $40,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration. However, estimated costs to update the EA run in the range of $75,000. So the Ravalli County Aviation Safety Foundation has offered to pay up to $35,000 to make up the difference “in the interest of aviation safety.”

“We believe in the direction the commissioners are going,” said Doug McLaren, president of the safety foundation, a registered nonprofit. “Our goal and reason for being in existence is to promote safety at the airport and we feel the current commissioners will support that as best as they can.”
McLaren said the money being committed to the county is all from donations and numerous fundraising efforts, though he did not elaborate.
McLaren said his organization is made up of a six-person board and no members. He said they all have something to do with aviation and work closely with the Ravalli County Pilot’s Association.

“We know that the commissioners are under a lot of stress to balance the budget,” McLaren said. “We are hoping by covering the county’s portion that they would be encouraged to move forward in the direction that they are going.”
County Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher applauded the group for its promised contribution.
“I wish (groups) would do that for everything,” Kanenwisher said. “Advocates of a process willing to put their money where their mouth is is a great thing.”

The FAA will pay for 95 percent of the grant, or $38,000. Ravalli County will pay the remaining $2,000.
The commissioners earlier this summer submitted a grant application asking for $75,000 from the FAA to help fund an updated environmental assessment. That amount was based on engineer estimates of what an update would cost, Kanenwisher said.
The objective of the grant is to produce an assessment for future runway improvements, including a possible expansion, and their environmental consequences, the application stated.
The assessment will review proposed relocation of the runway and determine its acceptability based on potential cultural and environmental effects on the community, the application stated.

Robert Peccia and Associates, which has offices in Helena, Butte and Kalispell, is the engineering firm commissioners selected to perform the updated assessment. The previous EA was prepared by Morrison-Maierle out of Bozeman.
The current assessment, which was released in November 2010, evaluated the effects of six alternative expansion plans for the airport’s runway.
That assessment had option 2A – shifting the runway 93 feet east and 1,000 feet north and keeping it at current 4,200-foot length – as the county’s preferred option, as adopted by the previous commission.

However, the current commission rescinded that decision in May, voicing its favor of option 3A. That option moves the runway 240 feet east, 1,500 north and allows for future growth in the apron and hangar space.
The final federal share of the assessment will be based upon an audit of the total amount of allowable project costs, as per the contract with the county.
Reach reporter Whitney Bermes at 363-3300 or whitney.bermes.

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