`We’ll begin moving dirt soon’

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 12, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

While a federal complaint in part blames the city for stalled progress at the airport, contractors are expected to begin work within weeks on $600,000 of infrastructure needed to expand Suffolk Executive Airport, said a top airport official.

According to Kent Marshall, the airport’s executive manager, City Manager R. Steve Herbert was scheduled to sign a contract Friday to build taxiways, parking ramps, site preparation, and lay down utilities that could serve as many as 10 new hangars.

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&uot;Weather permitting, we’ll begin moving dirt soon,&uot; Marshall said. &uot;With good weather, the work should be finished within 90 days. The only exception is the utility work, which is being handled by the city’s public works department.

Ultimately, the parcels of property will be leased out as through franchise agreements, Marshall said.

Meanwhile, Roger A. Leonard, owner of Cardinals’ Pilot Shop Inc. at the airport on Route 13, has asked the Federal Aviation Administration to investigate whether the city is violating the terms of the Federal Aviation Act, which requires it to facilitate development to enhance airport operations.

&uot;We are supposed to develop services that meet the needs of the flying public,&uot; Leonard said in an interview this past week. &uot;It is not sufficient to just have runways, taxiways, and a terminal building. This does not meet their (the city’s) obligation.&uot;

Terry Page, manager of the FAA’s airport district office, on Friday confirmed receipt of Leonard’s original complaint on Dec. 8 and an addendum received on Jan 7.

Typically, the agency tries to evaluate and respond to complaints within 30 days, Page said. At this stage, Leonard’s complaint is part of an informal process and the resolution is not necessarily binding, Page said. If he is not satisfied with the outcome, she added, Leonard could file a formal legal complaint for further investigation.

Leonard addressed City Council this past week about delayed projects at the airport, which he blames on roadblocks posed by the already strained public works, finance and legal departments. He ultimately seeks to see control of the airport turned over to an airport authority.

But as Leonard’s grievance makes its way through federal channels, a joint committee for airport development – consisting of staff from the city’s tourism, public works, planning, economic development and finance departments, Industrial Development Authority and airport commission – has been meeting to tweak the details of the proposed franchise agreements, Marshall said.

The city will be ready to call for potential franchisees to submit business proposals by March, he said. The request for proposals will be advertised in aviation publications on the East Coast for several weeks.

If all goes as scheduled, Marshall said, the new franchisee owners will be selected and notified by late May or June.

Getting to this point has been a lengthy, time-consuming process that has proven somewhat frustrating for several existing businesses interested in expanding, Marshall said. &uot;The airport is getting ready to take off,&uot; he said. &uot;We want to develop the airport to its maximum potential.

&uot;We have to look at the big picture from city’s standpoint …and we have to do what’s in the best interest of the city,&uot; he continued. &uot;We have to make sure everyone gets a shot at all that is available … and we have to do obey the procurement laws that are in place.&uot;

But Leonard is convinced that the city-owned airport is not meeting some of the 35 government mandates required of airports receiving federal funds. For one, he claims that the city has not reinvested all profits generated by the Suffolk Executive Airport back into the facility. Instead, it’s stashed in the general fund, Leonard asserts.

Marshall explained that money generated from fuel sales and other transactions at Suffolk Executive Airport does go into the city’s general fund. However, that money – and much more – is reallocated to the airport in the city’s annual budget allocations to the airport, he clarified. In recent years, the city has allocated about $500,000 to the airport biannually.

Page, of the FAA, explained that, &uot;Most small general aviation airports don’t generate a profit. It’s legal for revenue generated by the airport to be put into a larger city account, so long as the money is funneled back to the facility. Additionally, the FAA closely monitors the performance and quality of government-funded projects at the airport, Page said.