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Law passes opening more grants for RIAC

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U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs), left, and Mayor Dennis Kintigh say legislation signed into law Friday means the possibility of more funding for the Roswell International Air Center. They plan to hold a ceremony Thursday about the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act. They are seen here during a January press conference at the hangar leased by Dean Baldwin Painting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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Federal legislation that opens up the possibility of millions in additional funding for the Roswell International Air Center has become law.

President Donald Trump signed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018 on Friday, which now allows Roswell to apply for a grant program.

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) led the effort to amend portions of the legislation so that the Roswell airfield and its related facilities, as well as some other airports in the United States that were former Department of Defense airbases, can be eligible for funding under the Military Airport Program (MAP).

“The Roswell International Air Center has become a major economic driver for the city and Chaves County,” said Pearce in a Sept. 26 announcement when the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to pass an amended version of the legislation. The Senate then approved the amendments Oct. 3.

Pearce, who is running for New Mexico’s gubernatorial post, said the legislation “will assist the Air Center in making additional infrastructure improvements and attracting more businesses to the area.”

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Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) also served on a bipartisan committee and argued for the MAP amendment, with that committee agreeing to move the legislation forward.

Pearce and Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh have announced that they will hold a ceremony Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the Roswell International Airport Terminal, 1 Jerry Smith Circle, to talk about the significance of the legislation for the air center.

House Resolution 302, or the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018, is a compilation of several different pieces of legislation that affect Homeland Security programs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, and sports medicine licensure regulations.

Concerning the FAA, the legislation provides for safety and funding measures affecting both commercial and civilian aviation. But it is section 137 of the FAA provisions regarding the Military Airport Program that affect the Roswell air center.

Previously the grant program was  open only to airports that had been closed by the Department of Defense and turned over to city or county ownership after Sept. 20, 1977 under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) program.

That made the Roswell International Air Center ineligible for grants because it was closed by the military a decade earlier. Walker Air Force Base closed in 1967, with the city taking ownership of the property and the airfield.

Under the new law, any civilian-owned airport that was previously operated as a military air base after 1965 is now eligible to apply for MAP grants.

According to information published in the Federal Register, MAP provides eligible airports with up to $7 million in funding a year for up to five years, for a total of $35 million, for terminal improvements or construction. Airports also can receive up to $7 million for other infrastructure improvements.

Kintigh has called the Roswell air center a “poster child” for the MAP program because of the severe economic difficulties that resulted from the base closure. He said prior to the bill becoming law that the legislation will give the city a shot at funding that is “desperately” needed to make the air center attractive to business, investors and aviation consumers.

“This gives us the opportunity to seriously address fundamental infrastructure out there,” he said. “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.”

The Roswell airport already receives $1 million a year in entitlement funding from the FAA, based on its activity and use levels, so that it can maintain and repair runways and facilities as needed to continue operating. It also is eligible for other grants through various FAA and New Mexico Department of Transportation programs.

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