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9:14 AM Sun, Dec. 16th

Prescott pursues grant for airport security

Prescott police officer Paul Clemens watches as Bobi Cronin “wands” David Marshall in this 2002 file photo taken at Prescott’s Ernest A. Love Field.

Prescott police officer Paul Clemens watches as Bobi Cronin “wands” David Marshall in this 2002 file photo taken at Prescott’s Ernest A. Love Field.

PRESCOTT - At a cost of more than $100,000 a year, the Prescott Airport soon could have a uniformed police officer patrolling its terminal during scheduled commercial flights.

The Prescott City Council agreed Tuesday to apply for a $668,865 U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant to pay for five years of police coverage of the airport's commercial flights.

That arrangement would replace the airport's current "temporary alternate procedures," under which other airport staff members provide security.

Airport Manager Ben Vardiman told the council that the heightened security stems from the dramatic changes that occurred in the aviation industry after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

While many large airports across the nation could absorb the stricter security measures, Vardiman wrote in a memo for the council, "The same cannot be said for small rural airports that serve commercial aircraft."

In Prescott, for instance, "neither the airport budget nor the police department budget allow for the dedicated police officer presence at the airport," Vardiman said.

But assigning security duties to airport staff members also has affected airport operations. Vardiman's memo noted that "other fuel service and safety operations are curtailed to meet the security requirements."

Even so, Councilwoman Mary Ann Suttles brought up concerns about the high cost of the security.

"It's an awful lot of money, and I still think we're a small airport," Suttles said of the $133,773 annual cost of the airport security.

Vardiman said the program would require no local financial match for the Homeland Security grant. The city would pay for the police costs upfront and then ask the federal department for full reimbursement, he said.

The grant program would run from Oct. 1, 2007, through Sept. 30, 2012.

Vardiman pointed out that the airport's alternate procedures have complied with the temporary permission of the Transportation Security Administration Federal Security Director in Phoenix.

Under the proposed Law Enforcement Officer Reimbursement Program Cooperative Agreement, an officer would arrive at the Prescott Airport one hour before each of the 36 scheduled weekly flights, and remain for one hour after departure.

All officers assigned to the airport duty would receive appropriate Transportation Security Administration training.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com