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8:37 PM Fri, Sept. 21st

Council goes with middle ground for airport upgrades

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT - Faced with a choice between an airport that would cater mostly to small private aircraft and one that would accommodate commercial airlines serving the entire region, the Prescott City Council headed toward a "middle ground" this week.

In their fourth monthly strategic-planning workshop on the Prescott Airport Tuesday morning, council members appeared to support a third, new option: A "commercial local" airport.

With a price tag of about $55 million, the necessary improvements for a commercial-local option would fall between the estimated $33 million for a general-aviation airport, and the $102 million for a commercial regional airport.

At previous workshops, Prescott Economic Initiatives Director Jeff Burt and Airport Manager Jeff Tripp had focused on just two options, the general-aviation and regional airport.

After Tuesday's meeting, Burt explained that officials had arrived at a new option after hearing the earlier feedback from the council members.

"If you look at general aviation vs. regional, that's a big gap," Burt said. "What we felt like was that we need to have some middle ground."

Among the largest expenses in the regional-airport option was the plan for a new $20 million airport terminal.

The scaled-back commercial-local option would include a much smaller terminal project, costing about $4 million.

Councilman Chris Kuknyo, who has pushed for improvements to the terminal, pointed out that regardless of the city's choice, the terminal no longer meets current standards.

"The fact of the matter is - that under today's standards, the terminal is too close to the active runway," Kuknyo said. "But I think we could build something small - something that we can add on to in the future... I think option 2 addresses that."

With all three options, city officials have emphasized that the airport's taxiways and runway need work.

Even the least expensive general-aviation option includes about $16 million for a taxiway relocation, along with about $150,000 for runway upgrades.

The middle option also includes $16 million for the taxiway relocation, as does the regional-airport option.

But the cost for runway upgrades increases with the more expensive options. While the commercial-local option includes $13 million for lengthening and strengthening the runway, the regional-airport option includes $18 million for the runway extension and structural upgrade.

Improving the runway elicited strong support from council members because of the project's implications for the slurry bombers that the U.S. Forest Service uses for firefighting operations.

Burt noted that Forest Service bombers are currently using the Prescott Airport under a waiver that allows "infrequent users" to land at the airport, even though they might not meet the weight limits.

Council members made it clear that they would like to see the runway improved to ensure that the Forest Service continues to use the Prescott Airport - an intended result of both the second and third options.

The presentation included a number of "attributes and outcomes" of the various options. Among them for both the second and third options: Prescott would be "capable of accommodating all U.S. (Forest Service) aircraft."

With the costs being adjusted as the strategic-planning process proceeds, Burt said the estimates have fluctuated. For instance, costs rose in the past month because of the likely need for an $8 million local access road, which would not be eligible for Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants.

Most of the other projects would be eligible for FAA funding, and the city estimates local shares to total: general-aviation option - $1.3 million; commercial-local - $4.9 million (with an additional $8 million for the airport access road); and regional-airport - $13.3 million (with the additional $8 million for the access road).

Although the council members did not take a formal vote at the workshop, a majority appeared to support the middle, commercial-local option.

Future steps in the airport strategic-airport planning process include the May/June city budget discussions and May/July meetings with stakeholders, as well as FAA grant applications and a fall update to the City Council.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks.