Monday, September 10, 2012

It's a bird...It's a plane...It's SuperFederalGrant!

Posted by on Mon, Sep 10, 2012 at 4:28 PM

The following news post is by North Coast Journal intern Scottie Lee Meyers:

It was welcome news when the Arcata-Eureka Airport received a $750,000 federal grant last month to help bring a new eastbound route to the area. The airport has seen turbulent times in the past couple of years - airlines have left, ticket prices have gone up, and there've been airport management complications.

With most the money now in place, the airport can sit in the, ahem, pilot's seat by offering an airline a revenue guarantee and dictating fee waivers for landing, fuel and terminal rent.

With the help of local businesses and industry consultants, the county has put together an airline recruitment package. The 95-page package notes Humboldt's top employers, new infrastructure projects and passenger demand analysis statistics. It also boasts, "Voted one of Sunset Magazine's ‘Best Places to Live.'" There's even a pretty picture of that famous National Geographic cover shot of one of our towering redwoods.

But the package sits on the runway awaiting liftoff until partially matching funds come through. Don Ehnebuske, executive director for the Redwood Region Economic Development Commission, said Humboldt won the competitive federal grant because the Headwaters Fund agreed to put in up to $250,000, contingent upon his agency's pledging to try to match that with an additional $250,000  the federal grant is contingent on his agency's ability to raise an additional $250,000 within three years. The Headwaters Fund agreed to put in up to $250,000 in matching funds, meaning RREDC needs to raise at least $125,000. 

But it's been hard to find those matching funds during these cash-strapped times. Ehnebuske has been able to land $10,000 from the City of Eureka, $5,000 from Cypress Grove Chevre, $1,500 from Republic Parking and other smaller contributions. But it's not adding up to $250,000.

Ehnebuske hopes that the Headwaters Fund board will accept non-cash in-kinds to meet the match - such as fee waivers, for instance, for advertising the routes. The seven-member board will meet Sept. 18 to vote on the issue. If the board agrees to accept in-kinds, the county can begin shopping the package to airlines within the next couple of months - which is timely, because airlines typically add new routes in the fall.

The Arcata-Eureka airport is looking at four eastbound hubs - Dallas, Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City. The grant can't be used for a direct flight to Los Angeles International Airport, said ACV program coordinator Emily Jacobs; the county got a similar grant in 2004 to establish LAX-direct flights, which disqualifies the destination this time around. "That being said, sometimes that can be worked around," she said. LAX could be a stop to one of the required eastbound hubs.

No matter which company comes in, United Airlines will still be here. Tom Mattson, director of the county's public works department, said the county just renewed a lease with United for another year. (Note: Those of you frustrated with the delays and cancellations in and out of ACV shouldn't necessarily blame United, said Ehnebuske. The problem is congestion at San Francisco International Airport because of runway work, which will be ongoing until 2015. Airports with the closest proximity to SFO generally get interfered with most, he said.)

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Heidi Walters

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Heidi Walters has been a staff writer with the North Coast Journal since 2005.

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