The federal government has agreed to reimburse Miami International Airport $20 million for electronic baggage screening technology -- money that will help reduce huge cost overruns for the airport's massive expansion plan.
Most major airports across the country, including MIA, were ordered to implement the technology at their expense after the Sept. 11 attacks, without guarantee of reimbursement.
MIA spent $124 million in total -- $52 million this year alone -- to purchase the inline explosive screening system that sits downstairs mostly out of sight of the public.
Airport officials say the cost of the new machines is partly to blame for a $256 million deficit at the airport's North Terminal, which is part of an ambitious $4.8 billion expansion project that will eventually yield two new terminals.
The project is about two years behind its scheduled completion date, November 2007.
Interim Aviation Director Carlos Bonzon announced that the federal funds were coming Wednesday during a Miami-Dade County Regional Transportation Committee meeting.
The director believes the Transportation Security Administration is responsible for as much as 75 percent, or $93 million, of the $124 million spent on the system.
Getting the rest of that money will not be easy.
''They already made it clear to us that next year they don't have any money,'' Bonzon said.
''But we'll pursue whatever we feel is owed.''
TSA spokeswoman Lauren Stover said the $20 million has been set aside for MIA and could be handed over in the next few weeks. Like Bonzon, she's not certain of the future.
''There is no guarantee at this point that additional monies are coming,'' Stover said.
Bonzon thanked U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, and others in the Florida congressional delegation for securing the money. Diaz-Balart said he'll seek more money from the TSA.
''We're fighting for that. It's certainly our goal,'' he said. ''But we're obviously pleased with the $20 million.''
Last month, Bonzon said that work on the $1.52 billion North Terminal -- which will be run exclusively by American Airlines, the airport's biggest carrier and one of the county's top employers -- was $256 million over budget.
More than $90 million of the overage was due to the cost of the new machines, Bonzon said. He blamed the other expenses on the increased costs of materials, lawsuits, and design flaws that need correcting.
The expansion plan has been plagued by delays and cost overruns for the past decade and was a factor in the ouster of the last aviation director, Angela Gittens.
At some point, Bonzon said, he will have to seek additional money from American and the county commission. Either way, he said, the county would make its money back by raising landing, terminal or counter fees at MIA.
American in the past has balked at helping pay the cost overruns, saying that as the airport's largest carrier, it will end up paying up to 60 percent of the total costs of the $4.8 billion Capital Improvement Project just by paying its normal fees. Aircraft weight, total passenger seats and counter space determine who pays the most gate and landing fees.
American has said it needs the new North Terminal to speed up connections and for quicker baggage transfers that will enable it to compete with other international airports.
With anticipated costs spiraling toward $2 billion, county officials Thursday took steps to take control of building the problem-plagued North Terminal at Miami International Airport.
MIA's reimbursements are higher than those at any other large airport except San Francisco.
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