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Senate considers bill for airport funding

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“A lot of things have happened that are good, but we are not over the goal post yet,” says Mayor Dennis Kintigh about a bill that passed the U.S. House of Representative that could mean more funding for airport projects. (File Photo)

A revision in federal legislation approved by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday could mean millions more in funding opportunities for the Roswell International Air Center in the future.

The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 — a bill that still requires U.S. Senate and presidential approval to become law —includes several changes, including one that alters the eligibility criteria for former military air bases entitled to apply for grants under the Military Airport Program (MAP) of the Federal Aviation Administration. The change would allow the city of Roswell to participate in the grant process.

Mayor Dennis Kintigh said the effort to change the legislation started in April when he worked with U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) and his staff to revise the FAA appropriation legislation. U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) also helped in the effort to introduce revisions accepted by Senate committees.

As a result, section 137 of House Bill 302 now allows any base operated by the Department of Defense after 1965 to be eligible. Previously, MAP grants were only available to Department of Defense bases closed after Sept. 30, 1977, which were those closed during the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program. The Roswell airport, formerly known as the Walker Air Base or Walker Air Force Base, closed in 1967 in what Kintigh described as an extremely difficult time for the city, when it lost about one-third of its population.

“We are, if anything, a poster child for what MAP was intended for,” he said.

The city had been turned down previously because of the prior criteria.

“We have never been able to apply for this,” Kintigh said. “We have actually attempted; most recently was in 2017. We went ahead and went through the process, and we were told flat out that we can’t.”

According to information in a 2018 Federal Register announcement, MAP funding can provide up to $7 million for airport terminal projects for one to five years, for a total of up to $35 million, and up to $7 million in funding for other types of airfield and airport capital projects, including hangars, fuel farms, parking lots and cargo buildings.

“This gives us the opportunity to seriously address fundamental infrastructure out there. We have aging facilities that we just desperately need to upgrade to be competitive in the aviation world. We don’t have the money — the city doesn’t have the money and the state doesn’t even have the money. And the intention of the Military Airport Program was to assist communities transitioning from a military base economy to an economy dealing with civil aviation.”

Heinrich said that the funding would spur job and economic growth in the state.

“Our local airports connect communities all across New Mexico to tourism, business opportunities and commercial aviation,” he said. “I’m pleased we were able to secure this provision in the FAA reauthorization bill to allow Roswell to compete for critical federal dollars to modernize their airport infrastructure to spur economic development.”

The U.S. Senate is expected to consider the bill in the next couple of weeks.

“We are not ready for any high-fives, ‘hey, we got it,’ yet,” Kintigh said. “A lot of things have happened that are good, but we are not over the goal post yet.”

He also expressed appreciation for the efforts of both Rep. Pearce and Sen. Heinrich.

“These are both individuals from two different parties working together for the betterment of our communities, and that is, shall I say, not as common as it should be,” Kintigh said.

House Bill 302 also contains provisions regarding FAA safety and customer service and has sections dealing with the National Transportation Board, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and sports medicine licensure.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.