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Law’s passage levels ‘playing field’ for RIAC

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Three years from now Roswell and the surrounding area will see new jobs and economic and community growth as a result of the success of a piece of legislation that opens the door to the possibility of millions in grant dollars, a congressman told a local group gathered Thursday afternoon at the Roswell International Air Center terminal.

“The results will be seen a long time down the road,” predicts U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) about an amendment to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 that could bring millions in funding to the area. He and Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, at left, held a ceremony at the Roswell International Air Center terminal building Thursday afternoon. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

“No one will exactly remember how it occurred,” said U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs). “But there will be a few who remember and will say, ‘That was that one little bill that changed the 7 to a 6.’ And it won’t be long noticed by humanity, but the results will be seen a long time down the road.”

Roswell Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who also spoke at the “legislative ceremony” marking the passage of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act of 2018, said he already has inquired about obtaining funding for airfield projects after President Donald Trump signed the bill into law Oct. 5.

Pearce and Kintigh told people about how the changes to the Military Airport Program section of the FAA law came about, with Kintigh writing Pearce in April 2017 requesting that Pearce seek an amendment to the bill so that the Roswell airport could be eligible for MAP grants, which can be as large as $7 million over five years, or $35 million.

Previously the program, established in the early 1980s, limited grant eligibility to bases closed after 1977. The Roswell airport came into the city’s ownership in 1967 after the closure of the Walker Air Force Base, with a profound effect on a city that lost a great deal of its population and inherited a facility that its tax base could not maintain well. Because of the MAP criteria, previous attempts by the city to obtain MAP grants have been denied. With the amended legislation, the Roswell airfield and any civilian-owned airport that was operated by the Department of Defense after 1965 are eligible for the grants.

Pearce said that legislators did not voice opposition to the MAP amendment itself. But the FAA Reauthorization Act — which ended up being a compilation of many different pieces of legislation — did face opposition during the past two years, with Pearce beginning to think that it would not be able to be considered at all during this congressional session. Finally, after various Senate and House compromises and the additions of provisions that enough legislators could agree on, including compromises that Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-Albuquerque) worked on, the legislation passed both the House and the Senate and received the president’s signature, all within the last month.

“Now then imagine the potential,” Pearce said during his public statements. “Three years from now you should begin to see the prosperity because I think that Roswell is positioned better than any city in the country to take advantage of all the maintenance for airliners. You are already doing the paint.”

Pearce referred to Dean Baldwin Painting LP, which paints commercial and freight airliners. The city-owned hangar leased by Dean Baldwin has needed roof repairs for years, and a U.S. Department of Commerce grant received in January that had received Pearce’s recommendation covered about $800,000 of the $4.6 million costs. Pearce said that work at the facility has increased by almost 50 percent since the roof repair, which is expected to result in new jobs or increased wages.

Similarly, the MAP grants provide the funding mechanism for Roswell to repair or rebuild the aging buildings and airfield originally constructed in the 1940s to the 1960s.

“There is a deficit of aircraft maintenance throughout the world,” Pearce said. “Now then with the new trade agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States, I will tell you that many more manufacturing jobs, many more jobs that could fit here in this facility that need air transport in and out, could now be here.”

Pearce, a Republican gubernatorial candidate, and Kintigh, also a Republican, talked about how their working relationship has been able to create results for the air center.

“Understand that is what local leadership is (for), to alert the national leadership,” said Pearce. “We in Congress need to know where the locked doors are, and we need to know where the keys are to unlock the doors to get in.”

Kintigh said he decided to seek Pearce’s help in part because Pearce’s background as a former military pilot enables him to understand the potential that the air center has, not only for Roswell but the state.

“I wrote him a letter that said we want to be able to compete,” Kintigh said. “We are not asking for the grants. We just want to be able to compete. We just want a level playing field.”

He added, “Talk is cheap. Action is not. That is what I am here to recognize and to thank this Congressman.”

Robert Corn, chairman of the Chaves County Board of Commissioners, agreed that the grant funding represents great promise for the air center.

“I am tickled that we are on an even scale, or on a even playing field, with the other military bases that closed,” he said. “We have been limping along without it. Now we have an opportunity to get things organized and moving.”

Kintigh said the city has already written to the FAA following the signing of the act to ask it to reconsider the most recent grant application the city had submitted to MAP, given that the amended law was under consideration when the grant was submitted. He said he has no idea if the agency will reconsider that application.

“But the point is, heck, yeah, we are going to apply every … year for as much as we can,” he said.

Kintigh said the list of possible projects is long, but he considers top priorities to include the expansion of the Bravo taxiway to make it 75 feet wide to accommodate large freight aircraft and the construction of a large hangar suitable for modern aircraft, which he said “are basically computers with wings.”

“You have to work on them in an environment that is almost like working on a computer,” he said. “That means clean, high-level electronics, lift power, that kind of stuff.”

Given how authorization legislation can become a “target” for special interests, Kintigh said he is appreciates what Pearce was able to do.

“I didn’t think this could be done,” he said, “and I am just blown away that they were able to do it.”

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