Pullman-Moscow Airport Matching Funds Date Looms

Aug. 19--COLFAX -- Local communities and supporters have about nine months to raise the $1.5 million in matching funds needed to maintain forward progress on the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport expansion and realignment.

That assumes, however, that the Federal Aviation Administration will issue a finding of no significant impact for the project, which is estimated to cost $89 million to $119 million.

The FAA will cover at least 90 percent of the cost. Pullman, Moscow and other airport supporters will provide the remainder -- which could be as much as $11.9 million, if efforts by the Washington and Idaho congressional delegations to reduce the matching rate are unsuccessful, and if a 25 percent contingency fund is needed.

In a meeting with the Whitman County commissioners Monday, Pullman Mayor and Airport Board Chairman Glenn Johnson said the local match won't be needed all at once, but can be raised in phases.

The most immediate requirement, he said, is to come up with $1.5 million by May or June. That would be matched with a $15 million FAA grant and allow the actual engineering and design work to proceed, as well as provide money to start buying land.

All of this assumes there are no hiccups with the $3.2 million draft environmental assessment, which will be released for public comment Wednesday.

The 1,600-page document outlines various alternatives, including the preferred option of lengthening the runway by more than 400 feet, raising it to reduce problems with low-lying fog, and shifting it slightly so it isn't pointing straight at Moscow Mountain.

Airport Executive Director Tony Bean said the changes are crucial to address safety concerns.

The Pullman airport is operating under an exemption from the FAA because its runway and taxiway are too close together for the size of commercial planes that use the facility.

"Aircraft are getting larger and we don't meet the separation requirements," Bean explained Monday. "If we don't fix the problem, it's bye-bye commercial air service in Pullman, because carriers aren't using smaller planes anymore."

The comment period for the environmental assessment ends Oct. 6. Two public hearings will be held in Moscow and Pullman in late September (see breakout). Once the comments are addressed, a final assessment will be submitted to the FAA.

The agency will either issue a finding of no significant impact -- meaning the project can move on to the design and construction phase -- or it could decide the preferred alternative involves major effects and require that a more in-depth environmental impact analysis be conducted.

Johnson said the airport board -- which includes representatives from Pullman, Moscow, Washington State University, the University of Idaho, Latah County and the region at-large -- is currently debating how responsibility for the local matching funds should be distributed.

One possibility would be for Pullman and Moscow to each contribute $2.5 million, he said, but neither entity has made a firm commitment to that effect. Other funds could come from the two universities, as well as local businesses that rely on commercial air services.

The Moscow City Council has approved a proposal to use a portion of its deferred property tax levy authority to raise about $216,000 for the project in 2015.

Johnson said money for the expansion will also be included in Pullman's 2015 budget, although the amount has yet to be determined.

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

Hearings will be held in Pullman and Moscow to take public comment on the draft environmental assessment for the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport expansion and realignment project.

The Pullman meeting takes place from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at the Marriott Residence Inn.

The Moscow meeting will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Best Western Plus University Inn.

Copies of the draft environmental assessment will be available at Pullman City Hall and the main library for both communities. The document can also be viewed online at www.puw-ea.com.

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