After several weeks of negotiations, the Ravalli County Commissioners have reached a preliminary agreement with Brad Mildenberger to purchase about 120 acres of land adjoining the Ravalli County Airport for $3 million for the purpose of runway expansion. The commissioners voted last Friday to forward that preliminary agreement to the Federal Aviation Administration for approval as the agency is expected to fund anywhere from 90% to 100% of the runway expansion project.
The project was put on hold for quite a while when the local group Informed Citizens Against Airport Runway Expansion (ICAARE) sued the FAA over approval of the Environmental Assessment of the project. Last December the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling in favor of the FAA.
Ravalli County Commission Chair Jeff Burrows said the county was advised by the FAA to simply move forward with the efforts to secure the needed property. At the same time a special funding opportunity has arisen as over a billion dollars had been earmarked by the FAA to help with “supplemental funding” for airport projects.
Burrows said that typically in the past the FAA has provided 90% of funding for airport projects requiring a 10% local match. The Montana State Aeronautics would usually step in and cover half of that, leaving the local government covering only 5% of the total project costs. The local Airport Safety Foundation has also stated in the past that it could potentially cover this cost for the county as well.
“In this case,” said Burrows, “with all that supplemental funding available, especially the new supplemental funding available through the FAA, we have a very good chance to get this project 100% funded.” Burrows said the county hired a professional negotiator and worked hard on striking a deal with Mildenberger in order to take advantage of the window of opportunity.
The total cost of the runway expansion project is still not clear, according to Burrows, but is being currently estimated at $12 to $15 million.