New Customs Area at Stockton Airport Delayed

STOCKTON, Calif. - Plans to build a customs inspection station at Stockton Metropolitan Airport have been set back by a recent federal court ruling and may cost more than originally estimated, San Joaquin County officials said this week.

Still, airport director Barry Rondinella expects the new facility to be in place for Aeromexico to begin offering six flights per week to Guadalajara, Mexico, in November.

Given a bid opening and award now set for Wednesday, an engineer's estimate of 90 working days for construction and no further delays, the customs station could be completed by mid-October, he said.

"This is the schedule we think is realistic at this point in time," Rondinella said Tuesday as he updated the county Board of Supervisors on airport operations.

Another reality is the airport will lose a daily cargo flight, as United Parcel Service consolidates all former Emery Worldwide operations with the rest of its UPS air freight operations, the director said. At the same time, he reaffirmed that Allegiant Air LLC plans to begin a three-days-per-week service, aimed at leisure travelers, between Stockton and Las Vegas beginning June 16.

"That airport is the tale of two airports," responded Supervisor Leroy Ornellas. "It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."

In detailing the customs station project, Rondinella said the court ruling means federally funded contracts must contain "race-neutral" language when trying to encourage use of "disadvantaged business enterprises" as subcontractors.

That meant the pending bids on construction of the customs station had to be rejected and the contactors asked to submit new bids under the revised language.

The delay gave airport officials a chance to talk to contractors to clarify some concerns, as well as to seek some minor design changes, in order to reduce costs, Rondinella noted.

Those original bids had come in around $2.4 million, in excess of initial construction estimates of $2 million.

"The attempt is to get bids as low as practicable," he said.

Ultimately, the federal government should pay for most of the customs station, but San Joaquin County likely will have to tap its own treasury for higher-than-estimated costs until new Federal Aviation Administration grants can be sought and obtained.

Officials also discussed the prospect that Horizon Airlines might someday begin flying between Stockton and Los Angeles, providing as many as five daily flights.

But don't hold your breath.

"This is just possibly in '08," Rondinella said after leaving the morning supervisors meeting. "It's all speculation at this point."

Copyright (c) 2006, The Record, Stockton, Calif.

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