Less than a week after learning it would be receiving $18 million through the CARES Act, Yellowstone Regional Airport learned it would have its funding reduced by about $6.2 million, for a new adjusted total of $11.7 million, at least for now.
The news was announced during a special board meeting held early Thursday afternoon. Bob Hooper, YRA general manager, said the airport learned the information just that morning.
“I won’t say I’m not concerned, Bucky Hall, YRA board chairman, said when reached by phone after the meeting, “But we’ll take what we can get.”
But he, Hall and Scott Bell of Morrison-Maierle Engineering, also said in conversations with the Federal Aviation Administration, it was communicated that the original granted amount of $18.01 million is still very much eligible, and YRA just has to submit a project plan to secure it.
Hooper said the funding was reduced because the FAA wants to see proof YRA is able to complete the environmental process for, and complete any associated projects the money is being used for within four years.
YRA originally received more money than any other airport in Wyoming or Montana. Closest was the Yellowstone Airport in West Yellowstone, Mont., which received $17.8 million. Billings Logan International Airport will get $12.7 million.
The purpose of the YRA board meeting Thursday was to designate out how portions of the $18.01 million would be spent. This money must go toward operations and maintenance- which includes payroll, and towards developmental projects that must be completed in the next four years.
After some clarifications and small push back, it was determined $5 million will be devoted towards operations and maintenance, which will be the only money made available immediately.
Bell said it would be much harder to budget vice-versa- in other words, under-budgeting and asking to spend more in the future.
Heidi Rasmussen, a YRA board member, pushed hard for the $5 million to go to O&M so YRA can be less dependent on the City of Cody and Park County in the long term.
About $1.75 million will go towards a quick-turn car rental wash facility that was already planned for construction this summer prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The remaining roughly $11.2 million will go towards projects at the airport.
How that money will be divided up and on what projects drew the most disagreement at the meeting. It was decided there will be a public work session to discuss this 1 p.m. Tuesday at Collier Group Hangar #102, just east of Cody Coffee and Choice Aviation.
Equipment acquisition, flight approach ground instruments, and a $8.06 million terminal expansion were some of the projects most discussed. These projects would be divided between two phases- spending of the guaranteed $11.7 million and spending of the $6.2 million. It appears most of the terminal expansion would theoretically happen during the second phase.
Rasmussen also said she wants funding to go towards airport projects that will generate revenue, like investing in the business park and hangars. She does not believe a terminal expansion would raise revenue.
Hooper said projects that should be considered for the CARES Act funding are those that are not eligible for Airport Improvement Program match-type funding or through other grants.
YRA board member Jordan Jolley and Joel Simmons of Choice Aviation expressed frustration about specific projects being chosen on Thursday, so the upcoming submission to the FAA will only include general funding numbers for projects. Jolley and Rasmussen also expressed irritation that Hall would not discuss rescinding certain rate hikes recently approved on airport services, as it was not on Thursday’s agenda.
“Are you dictating now, or are we going to do a vote?” Rasmussen questioned.
Hall did not relent and said it can be discussed at the next board meeting on May 13.
The only one of those rate increases that will go into effect before that meeting is general aviation landing fees. Hall said if the rescinding occurs aviators will be refunded for their 13 days of extra fees.