Another try for small airport loan bill

Another try for small airport loan bill

After numerous efforts to make permanent a temporary revolving aviation loan program, state lawmakers are optimistic that this session the proposal will pass muster with both the legislature and Governor Jay Inslee’s office.

HB 1030 would establish the Community Aviation Revitalization Board (CARB) to oversee revolving low-interest loans to small airports. Stakeholders testifying at a Jan. 25 public hearing of the House Transportation Committee argued that the loans financed critical expansion work necessary for economic development.

“It’s done an amazing job and is really popular out there,” HB 1030 sponsor Rep. Tom Dent (R-13) said. “Grant money is really limited to only airport infrastructure. But (with) this they can borrow money for economic development. Our airport is the gateway to our community, so we’d like to keep it as viable as we possibly can.”

The loan program was set up with a $5 million appropriation in the 2019-21 state capital budget and is set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. A bill last year that would have created a permanent board to oversee the program was vetoed by Inslee due to opposition over the board’s structure. Dent said that since then they’ve worked with Inslee’s Office to address that issue.

The state Commercial Aviation Coordinating Commission (CACC) included the program’s extension among its recommendations made last year to the legislature.

The program allows airports with fewer than 75,000 commercial takeoffs to apply for a 20-year loan of up to $750,000 at a two percent interest rate. Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Aviation Director David Fleckenstein told the committee the loan helps “self-sustainability across our public use airports” by reducing their dependence on state and federal grant money. He added that while grant money is restricted in how it can be spent, “the loan program provides airports with an avenue to pursue those (economic development) kinds of projects.”

Port of Port Angeles Airport Manager Daniel Gase oversees the William R. Fairchild International Airport. He told the committee that the $750,000 they received allowed them to do extensive expansion to water and sanitary sewer lines, which he said was “a vital first step toward any future development we might envision. The CARB program allowed us to move ahead swiftly, years ahead of what might have been possible,” adding it will provide “new jobs, new economic opportunity on the Olympic Peninsula, and economic diversity to help our rural airport.”

Warren Hendrickson is the airport manager for the Bremerton National Airport. He noted that Colorado has had a similar program in place for decades, despite having fewer airports than Washington, and not a single airport has had a delinquent payment in that time.

“Airports are excellent shepherds of the state’s funds,” he said.

No further action is scheduled for HB 1030.

TJ Martinell is a native Washingtonian and award-winning journalist. Born and raised in Bellevue, he’s been involved in the news industry since working at his high school newspaper.

His investigative reporting for various community newspapers in the Puget Sound region has been recognized by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists.

A graduate of Eastern Washington University, he has a B.A. in journalism and was the news editor of EWU’s student university newspaper.

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