Port of Port Townsend seeks delay in airport construction

Officials say main breakwater at Boat Haven is higher priority

PORT TOWNSEND — Port of Port Townsend officials seek to restructure a federal grant for a runway rehabilitation project at Jefferson County International Airport.

Citing concerns that they cannot afford the funding match requirements for construction — Phase 3 of the project — the three port commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to communicate its financial concerns to the Seattle Airports District Office (APO) of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and request that the grant be structured to defer construction activities to the spring/summer of 2020.

Port officials believe it will be in a more favorable financial position to incur costs at that time.

The FAA has told port officials that the entire runway at the airport at 191 Airport Cutoff Road must be redesigned.

The more pressing issue, according to staff, is a repair to the main breakwater at Boat Haven that suffered considerable damage in the Dec. 20 storm.

“[It] requires action this year to safeguard the marina and before the autumn 2019 weather arrives,” Deputy Director Eric Toews told commissioners.

“We are still looking for a better number on what the cost of that fix is likely to be, but right now the best estimate we have is $300,000, perhaps more.

“This repair could seriously impact the budget and consequently impact the port’s ability to make match in 2019 for this [runway] project.”

Toews said staff has had several conversations with the FAA and believes that being upfront about the port’s constraints is warranted.

“We could obligate the FAA funds for this project in 2019 but not undertake construction and incur expenses until the spring of 2020,” he said.

”We’ve had a number of conversations with the Seattle APO of the FAA concerning that and I think the FAA’s position is that they really don’t want the port to lose out on the opportunities for the monies that have already been budgeted and allocated for this project.”

However, he said the FAA has remained non-committal on the issue of the precise timing of the project.

“Depending on the issuance of the grant for Phase 3 construction, there might be an expectation that the port would move forward with this project during summer season,” he said.

The Runway Rehabilitation project is in the final stages of engineering design, with a likely bid-ready date of April.

Construction was expected to begin this summer with estimated costs of about $4.38 million. The port’s likely match would be 5 percent, or $219,000.

“There is every expectation but no guarantee that we will get the 5 percent match from state Department of Transportation Aviation Division and we won’t know that for sure until that grant has been issued,” he said.

A request for supplementary discretionary funding still could be granted, making the port’s share zero which would mean the project could move forward. Or, Toews said, the request would be unsuccessful and the match could be up to 10 percent or $438,000.

Both Commissioners Bill Putney and Pete Hanke are private pilots and use the airport.

Hanke thanked the “pilots in the room room tonight, supporting us” and said he supported postponing the project.

“We have lot more flexibility to make it work for the pilot community and the businesses out there and we are constrained by plants and when they can produce asphalt. So I would like to postpone.”

Port Attorney Frank Chmelik said his experience with the FAA is that they are non-committal until the airport sponsor commits. He encouraged the commissioners to communicate the situation honestly.

“We really can’t afford it this year. We need to do it next year.” Chmelik said. “How do we make it work? That’s my experience.”

Toews said the port is trying to make good decisions based on immediate unforeseen needs.

“We are trying to be wise stewards of our public resources and seek to delay this to a time when we feel that we will be better prepared to undertake these expenses,” he said.

DOT and FAA “are our partners in this.”

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 oratjmcmacken@peninsuladailynews.com.

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